Put Them Together


(Author’s Note: This is my last blog entry of 2020 and the last chapter of BROKEN. I am honored you have followed this story. Thank you, Dear Readers.)

Night shadowed the small party of investigators by the river. Storm clouds wrestled, throwing spears of lightning. A cold rain was set to dump on Detroit and the surrounding area. Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson stood over the shallow grave of a teenager as the ME and her team exhumed him.

Lordy, she needed a vacation. For the third time, in less than two weeks, she stood by the river staring at another dumped soul that had found him or herself in the deadly aftermath of a criminal act. Three bodies, three cases strung together by the mishaps of a single boy. It hardly seemed believable. 

Cadaver dogs had pinpointed this grave using information provided by Jack’s runaway son. Jon and the undercover agent known as Rat Snatcher had done what they could in a grotesquely out-of-control situation. They buried young Lincoln in a beautiful spot overlooking this goddamned river. What was it about this pair of rival gangs that used the river as their dumping ground?

The department could not arrest the men responsible for the death of Lincoln. Charlie Marchesi was an ex mob boss in Witness Protection. They could not arrest him, or his son, Evan Fischer, for child endangerment or murder. Nor could they arrest Rat Snatcher, who also worked for Marchesi, though he was an undercover agent for the FBI. The FBI had jurisdiction and had taken over those cases. Detroit PD couldn’t seek justice from Allessandro Santorini, Marchesi’s right hand man, even though he had organized Lincoln’s rape. Santorini was lying in their morgue, shot by rival gang members. She guessed they would soon find out if Santorini had brutality killed Lincoln, or if he had died of a heart problem, as Snatcher explained to Jon.

Maureen ran Lincoln’s name through missing persons’ records but could not find him. It probably wasn’t his name. She suspected most of the teens embroiled in the dark world of sex trafficking and illegal fight clubs used aliases. Jonathan did. Why wouldn’t Lincoln? Now that she would have a chance to run fingerprints there was a greater chance they would identify him. She would keep looking, for Jonathan’s sake, but she knew in her gut that Lincoln had died anonymously and would remain so.

A sharp breeze blew the hem of her coat. She looked at the darkened sky. Her team needed to hustle before the storm hit them. “Let’s get Lincoln out of bed,” she said. So much had happened to bring them to this place.

As the ME pulled Lincoln’s body from the shallow trench and carefully set him upon the tarp, she thought about the young Taiwanese man left to rot by the river’s waters. This fiasco had started that night. Though she had no proof, Evan Fischer, or someone associated with him, shanked the boy from Taiwan in a dirty fight and dumped him. Like Lincoln, he would remain anonymous, but his journey had been different. He had most likely been lured by the promise of a glorious fighting career, taken from his home in Taiwan to the city of Detroit. Now he would be forgotten. She was still piecing together possible stories about him. Either he had been sent by the infamous Morelli brothers, suspected of human trafficking but slippery as eels, or had volunteered for increased status within their organization to punish Evan Fischer for impregnating their sister, Sobrina.

The same night Maureen stood over the young Taiwanese man’s body, Evan’s grandmother reported him missing. Was it coincidence that she called Jack Tyler to take the missing person’s call on the same night Jack’s son, Jonathan Tyler, had stepped off a bus and walked into the unfolding drama between the missing and the dead. You couldn’t make this shit up. No one would believe it.

Jon huddled against his father where they stood nestled under a tree about twenty-five yards from the burial site. Jack didn’t want his son to see or smell the gruesomeness that was sure to follow as they exhumed his friend’s body. Maureen would just as soon they leave, but Jon was adamant. Something inside him needed to see it through, to see his friend taken care of correctly. She hoped it would give him some closure for this nightmare.

The ME guessed that death had occurred at least six days ago. She collected insect evidence and soil samples to help confirm her guess. It was illegal to bury a body this way, but Maureen didn’t plan to process Jonathan for this one. She suspected that in some twisted way, Agent Phillip Morris, aka Rat Snatcher, was trying to protect Jon by not reporting Lincoln’s demise to his superiors, though she didn’t see how any of this could have reflected upon Jon. Maybe there just hadn’t been the time, but obviously, Snatcher had not told the FBI, or they would have found traces but not Lincoln’s body. People did weird shit when they were desperate. She’d probably never understand all that had happened.

Jon had recognized the man who beat him up in a line of purported Morelli henchmen. The guy had stupidly worn a plaid shirt to the lineup, and that caught Jon’s attention. The tip offs were the boots that Jon had memorized as the man hauled him to the garbage bin, and a large ring he wore on his finger. Maureen had photo evidence of an imprint the ring made above Jon’s eye.

Because he identified Emilio Morelli as the man who ordered the hit, a troop of uniformed cops were currently approaching his reported residence. She expected to hear from them any moment now.

The ME approached her. “We are ready to move him.”

“Good. Let’s do it.” She walked over to Jack and his son. “The next stop for Lincoln is the morgue. The ME will perform an autopsy. He’ll be cleaned up and held until we can identify his true identity.”

“You will look for his family?” said Jon.

“Yes. I will personally let you know if we find them. You two should get home before the storm lands on top of us.”

“Thank you, Maureen,” said Jack.

Social Services had decided it was in Jon’s best interest to stay out of the system until the courts determined the outcomes of his charges. Meghan lost it when they awarded Jack temporary custody. She had conveniently packed their divorce papers and pulled it out so they could see the custody agreement. She threatened to take Jack and Social Services, if necessary, to court. The caseworker would not back down. Evidently, a hotel room situation was not as secure as Jack’s apartment situation, and Jack was a valued citizen of Detroit and therefore trusted.

Meghan tried to use Jack’s OCD against him, but Social Services didn’t buy it. Her son had run away from home three times, a dilemma that they couldn’t reconcile without more research.

“I want to see your so-called apartment,” she had demanded. What did she expect? That he lived in squalor?

Jack invited her and Phillip to join him for lunch. Jon wouldn’t be released until that evening. It gave him plenty of time to quell her fears.

Meghan sashayed in with an air of disdain. She slowly walked from room to room. She opened the refrigerator. She opened every cupboard and closet. She finally sat on the couch and ran her hands across the fabric on the arm. “I guess this place is okay.”

“Be fair, Meg. This is a nice apartment,” said Phillip as he sat in the easy chair to the left of her. “And it is secure with a twenty-four hour concierge service.”

“I’m going to order lunch and have it delivered,” said Jack. “What would you like?”

They settled on Thai food.

“He was bullied at school,” Jack said.

“Oh, bullied. He was picked on. The kid’s too sensitive,” scoffed Meghan.

Phillip didn’t disagree, but he had set up mixed martial arts lessons for Jon and had encouraged him to join a club at school.

Meghan said, “Phil set up a practice floor in the garage. We tried to toughen him up.”

Jack sighed. Would he have done the same if he had remained in Jon’s life? “The bullying was worse than he led you to believe. I don’t think he told Rick how bad it was. I don’t believe Hank knew either,” said Jack.

It saddened him that Jon had not felt comfortable enough to tell anyone how bad it was. From Meghan and Phillip’s comments, he was not sure they would have listened. He would be happy if Jon didn’t return to California.

“What’s next?” said Phillip.

Meghan was quick to explain. “His case will be adjudicated in a special court because he has been charged as a minor. He’ll most likely be placed in a safe house, here in Michigan.”

Worst case scenario was that he would be assigned to a Detention Center. The thought made Jack sick. The possibility of his son being placed in a safe house when he could stay with an actual parent wasn’t much better.

Meghan and Phillip went to the hospital to say goodbye to Jon as he was released into Jack’s custody. Jack was pleased that Meghan held herself together. Jon didn’t whine, he didn’t gaze sadly as they drove away, he seemed content, perhaps because at that point, he was resigned to his fate, but he had a smile on his face when Jack drove him to the apartment. Jon seemed settled as he curled up on Jack’s couch and watched TiVo after dinner.   

That night, after Jon went to sleep, Jack sat at the end of the bed and watched him breathe, so grateful that he was alive. Many homeless children didn’t live through the experience. Rick, Jon’s older brother, was right to worry about him becoming a statistic. He was broken to be sure, but not another number on a death list.

He stood and straightened the blanket around his son’s shoulders and padded to the living room.

He picked up his phone and punched in Tom’s number.

Tom picked up on the third ring. “Hey.”

“Were you asleep?”

“Dozing. There isn’t much else to do when one is confined as a convalescent.”

“Just a few more days.”

“Three. Three more days, if physical therapy goes well. How is the kiddo?”

“Sleeping. Social Services trusted me enough to let him stay here until his case comes up.”

“Pssht. I guess you better take time off. Don’t let him out of your sight.”

“I don’t think he is going to be running again anytime soon.”

“How are you doing, Jack?”

“I don’t know. Exhausted, I guess. I still haven’t recovered from our last case.”

“I know. We need a vacation after this.”

“You’ve had a vacation.”

“This is not a vacation. It’s hard getting well.”

Jack laughed, but it really was no laughing matter. It was hard recovering from injuries as serious as Tomi’s were. Jack then said, “I’m going to apply for custody.”

Tom was quiet.

“Are you there?”

“Just listening.”

“I can’t stand the thought of him being in a detention center.”

“He’s only fifteen. They’ll put him in a safe house with people trained to help him.”

“My OCD will factor into their decision. I want to claim you as my second.”

“You’ve thought a lot about this.”

“He thought I left because I didn’t love him. I left because I did love him.”

“So think about that, Jack. Love him and think about what is best for the both of you.”

Tears filled Jack’s eyes. He let them fall.

“If I was with you, I would wipe those damn tears off your face,” said Tom.

“How did you know?”

“No worries. I’m not getting your psychic shit. I can hear it in your voice.”

Jack chuckled. “I don’t know if I can visit tomorrow.”

“I’m fine. My niece and nephew have worn me out. I’m pretty sure they plan to come tomorrow again.”

“If I can, I will, too. I’ll bring Jon if he is up to it.”

“Don’t force him. We don’t even know what we are, yet.”

Jack sighed.

“Good night, Jack.”

“Good night, Tom.”

 Tom was right. Nobody knew what tomorrow would bring. There was time to think about this decision. He did know one thing: He loved Jonathan and would do anything he had to, to protect him.

Jack checked the doors and shut off the lights. He checked Jon one more time. He settled into a sleeping bag at the base of his bedroom door so he would wake easily if his son needed him. He hadn’t been a father for most of Jon’s life, but he could start now by standing guard every night for as long as necessary.

His runaway days were over.

The End

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Pick Up Pieces

( Author’s Note: For a few weeks now, I have been asking those of you who read my newsletter or my Facebook posts, who read my blog, to find what makes your heart sing. What did you find?

One of my friends told me her heart sings whenever she reads the words of poetry her significant other writes. I could tell it felt like a profound gift. I know her heart sings when she sits outside on her patio surrounded by the natural world. She shared that with me too. I felt honored. Nature was glorious, and my heart sang while I sat there enjoying her company. I will always be able to picture it, and my heart will always sing when I think on it.

For myself, it is the connections I have made with others: family, friends (human, animal, and plant), all both near and far; connections made with colleagues and students in the teaching, art, writing, and music communities, past and present, near and far. My heart is full of songful memories and present experiences. I found my voice again, literally, and sing myself into bliss, a quiet zone of deep meditation, regeneration, and connection.

So, what makes your heart sing? Gather it up. I am inviting you to join me on a short journey, and you will need to take it with you.

The 2020 election is upon us. No matter the outcome of it, a tidal wave of emotion is heading toward us with breathtaking height and speed. My advice: Pick up all that makes your heart sing and come with me to the metaphorical high ground. Go to the mountaintop where you will sit and watch the influx and efflux of rushing emotion below you, because our course of action – manifesting compassion, equality, unity – has not changed. We are still heading for that which we seek. We will find the path when the tidal waters recede, and we will continue building.

When I come off the mountain, I will find that the fear I have been hanging onto these past four years will be gone, because I plan to leave it here where the deluge can roll over it and wash it away. My joy and optimism, all that makes my heart sing, I will take with me.

Come with?

Grab what makes your heart sing and join me on the mountain. We will wait out the tidal wave TOGETHER, and I promise you: We will survive this no matter who wins the election. Our journey toward tomorrow is just beginning. Keep reading to enjoy the second to last chapter of BROKEN.) 

Pick Up Pieces

Marcus Balmario returned with steamed, hot chocolate for Jonathan Tyler. As the boy sipped, he found strength to knit himself together. Marcus clicked on the recorder so Jon could continue witnessing his experience. Marcus had to remember to use less technical, less forceful words. Jon wasn’t a hardened street kid. He was the product of professional parents. He had stepped into a world that had punched him in the face, literally.

“Jon, do you know for sure that Evan Fischer was the father of the baby?” Marcus could barely believe Jon had been tasked with the horrendous job of taking a dead baby from a tumultuous birth to presumably dispose of it.

“I assumed he was, since Sobrina Morelli was his girl. Did Sobrina die?”

“What?” said Balmario.

Chief Maureen Thompson, who was attending Jon’s interview, leaned forward to hear his answer clearly.

“I heard one of the Morellis say his sister was dead. They had guns. Evan was on the ground with Charlie. They were looking for me.”

“The Morellis were looking for you?”


“How do you know this?” said Maureen.

“When Rat and I got back from burying Lincoln, there was a confronta – .”

“Stop. I want to hear about that,” said Maureen. “You buried Lincoln. The kid you met at the MMA meet?”

Jon was shaking so badly, his hands bounced against the table. “I think I need to eat something,” he said.

Balmario said, “Finish your chocolate. Tell us about Lincoln.”

Jon slurped the foamy concoction and set the cup on the table. “I was following Rat’s orders.”

Marcus Balmario shook his head. He tamped down the frustration that was boiling in a spot between his shoulder blades. “Back up. What happened after you left the baby in the alcove?”

“I ran back to Marchesi’s and heard men shouting from a garage behind it. When I went to investigate, some of Marchesi’s men were cheering because Alles had forced Lincoln to the ground. I tried to break in, to get him out of there, but they grabbed me. Then Rat saved me. He pulled me out of the building, but I knew they were gang raping him. I’ve seen a pack of ramped up testosterone more than once. I was jumped by a pack at school. They stopped short of rape, but they sure made a show of it. That’s when Phillip enrolled me in an MMA club.”

Jackson Tyler, his parent in attendance, said, “You fight?”

Balmario didn’t want to get into a side conversation between estranged father and son, so he said, “Continue, “ though being disciplined in an MMA organization was probably why Jon was sitting in front of them today, instead of rotting at a dump site after being beaten and thrown away as garbage.

“Rat pulled me away, and then we got into a fight. I tried to use moves I learned in my MMA club, but I was no match for him. Rat whipped me.” Jon was clearly ashamed about that.

He said, “Rat told me he knew about the baby, so the Morellis did, too. I was wrecking his plans. I don’t know what plans those were. We went back to Marchesi’s, and I gave Charlie the hundred dollars. Told him I got it doing a blow job.”

Jack looked away and shook his head.

Jon looked at his father and said, “I didn’t do one, Dad.”

Jack said, “I know.”

“Continue,” said Balmario.

“After that, Charlie ordered Rat out to the garage and told him to take me with him. Rat was so sad. So was Hawg. I think they knew.”

“Knew what?”

“That Lincoln was dead. We took him to a wooded place by the river and buried him.”

“Let me recap. You left the baby in the alcove.”

Jon’s shaking intensified.

Marcus leaned across the table to look directly into Jon’s eyes. “I am just going to state it as fact. We need to do this.” Dammit, Jon’s eyes were so big and sad. “You ran to Marchesi’s, saw a gang rape.”

“I didn’t see it. I heard him screaming.”

“Okay. You witnessed the boy Lincoln on the ground.”

“Then Rat Snatcher pulled me away from that. We fought.”

“Then you went back to the Bar and Grill where Charlie told you and Rat Snatcher to take care of Lincoln.”


“Do you think you can show me where you took him on a map?” 


The intercom clicked on, and Captain Jamison said, “Map is on the way. Assembling a team to verify.”

Jon jumped. “Is someone else listening?” he said.

Jack petted Jon’s hair on the back of his neck. “Yeah. They are right behind that darkened window.”

“Huh,” said Jon. He stared at it a minute and then leaned into his father. “Have they been listening the whole time?”


Jon spoke in a whisper. “They saw me blubbering.”

Jack whispered, “They understand. Nobody is going to worry about that. You shouldn’t either.”

“I’m sorry I am such a big baby,” said Jon.

“I don’t see a big baby in this room,” said Jack. “I just see my beautiful, brave son, who has battled the streets of Detroit.”

“Are they going to find Lincoln?”

Jack caught Marcus’s glance. Would they find anything? The FBI had most likely cleaned up after them. It wouldn’t hurt to try for Jon’s sake.

“With your help. Yes,” said Marcus.

“He was a nice guy, Dad.”

“Yeah. He was caught up in something that was too big for him. Just like you.” Jack continued to pet his hair.

“While they find a map and assemble a team, let’s finish the story, Jon. Then you can go to your father’s house and rest.”

“Are they letting me do that?” He looked toward the woman from Social Services.

“Temporarily, yes,” she said.

Maureen Thompson asked, “What happened after you buried Lincoln.”

“Rat and I went back to Marchesi’s. Rat was nervous about everything that day so he parked a few blocks away. I followed him and stayed quiet like he asked me to. He was afraid of something. He kept stopping to look around. Each time he did it, he was like a mother hen, hiding me behind him. When he got to the restaurant, we heard shouting behind the bar. We snuck around. That’s when I saw the gunmen. Alles had his hands tied behind him and was on his knees. They pulled Charlie and Evan down, too, and tied them up. I heard one of them ask for the other kid, the one that took the money to the curan…curan….”

“Curandera,” said Maureen. “Sobrina’s midwife.”

“Yes. That’s when the gunman said he wanted to thank me, too, for the death of his sister. Rat told me to run. I did. I ran. I heard guns, but I kept running. I didn’t stop. I found a sheltered alley to stay the night, but a homeless man chased me away. The cops chased me away from a small park fountain. I found another alley. It wasn’t as nice as the first, but I felt safe there. Morning came. I had the ten from Rat. I bought food. I wandered the rest of the day. I didn’t want to be seen. I was worried I would get shot because of the money I gave to the midwife.”

“Geezus,” said Jack.

Maureen urged Jon to continue. “Then what happened.”

“I wandered pretty far, I guess. It was late, the sun was setting. I was hungry. I saw people panhandling. I thought it looked pretty futile. Then people started giving me money. I was only sitting there. It was amazing. I had a little over thirty dollars and decided to go into the restaurant across the street. I got mugged. The mugger took my wallet and ran. I ran after him. He threw my wallet away. It landed in a dumpster. He took all my money and your letter, Dad. He left my ID, so I guess that’s something. I had to start over. I sat back down in the spot where people had given me money, but that didn’t happen again.”

Jon sighed. “I guess you’ll arrest me after I tell you what happened next.”

“Go on,” said Maureen.

“A car pulled up to the curb, and a guy offered me twenty dollars for a hand job. I took the money.”

Jack said. “Shit.”

“Oh, Lordy,” said Maureen. Jack had told her about the dream he had, how he hoped he’d been superimposing his attraction to Tomio over his worry about Jon.

Jon looked at him with a questioning look on his face.

Jack shook his head. “We’ll talk later. Continue the story.”

Balmario thought, thank god.

Jon said, “I didn’t get any more offers that night. And panhandling did not work the next day.”

“Why didn’t you just go to a soup kitchen?” said Maureen.

“I couldn’t. My face was plastered everywhere on those FBI posters.”

“Unbelievable,” said Jack.

Jon’s rushed his words together when he said, “Okay, I suspect this is really illegal, but I did it again. It doesn’t pay as well as I thought it would. You know you’d think if you gave of yourself, it would be worth more, but it isn’t. You have to keep giving and giving.”

“Okay, okay,” said Marcus Balmario. They were way beyond worrying about this kid implicating himself in prostitution. He had no clear plan. He was just a kid stupidly responding to each moment as it presented itself with a typical teenaged lack of logic. He was in over his head, like so many of them he pulled off the street. It was one of the reasons that so many states had adopted Safe Harbor Laws. He decided it would do Jon good to tell his story completely, no matter what implications it presented.

He recapped, “You were mugged and lost money you obtained while panhandling.”

“Yes. I had no money.”

“So you committed an act of prostitution.”

“And got money.”


Marcus Balmario wasn’t sure this child knew the exact definition of prostitution, but it didn’t matter at this point.

“I met these three people who reminded me of Lincoln. In fact they knew him. They took me in and showed me a good place to work. That’s where I met the guy who beat me up.”

“Where did you go after you escaped from the dumpster,” said Balmario.

“I sat under a tree for a while. Then I don’t remember much. I guess I am lucky you arrested me trying to solicit Rodney Heathe, huh?”

“You solicited him?”

“I heard he paid well.”

“Who told you that?”

Jon froze. The fire behind his eyes shut off. “I…I don’t remember. I heard it somewhere.”

“You climbed out of the dumpster, sat under a tree, and someone told you that Rodney Heathe paid well.”

“I don’t remember. Days and days passed. I was hungry, and I hurt all over. I was ready to do anything. I wanted to feel safe for a while.”

He approached a predator to keep him safe. Unbelievable. Marcus was disgusted. If he ever got his hands on the schmuck that told an obviously injured and scared boy about Rodney Heathe, he would kill him.

A knock on the door alerted the team. A clerk stepped in and handed a folded map to Marcus. He opened it and spread it on the table so that Jon could look at it. “Okay. Show us where you buried your friend.”

One tear fell from Jon’s eye, but he quickly wiped it away. He studied the map. “It’s not here, we left the city and drove toward a lake. There was a hiking trail.”

The person from Social Services spoke up. “I know what he’s talking about. There’s a nature preserve on the river.”

“Yes, we were following the river when Rat pulled off the road. He drove down a dirt lane for a while.”

The woman stood up and flipped over the map. Then she pointed. “Here it is.”

“Did you walk the trail?”

“No, we walked off trail so people couldn’t see us. Jon looked at the line of the river. He pointed to a small indentation. “I think it’s about here.”

“We’ll get a team to start investigating.”

Jon said, “I want to go.”

Maureen said, “You’re tired and hungry, Jon.”

“I want to help find Lincoln,” he said.

The entire team collectively sighed, but Jon’s expression was resolute. Marcus knew he would need this closure to battle demons later on.

Maureen said, “If I bring you a sandwich, can you give our artist a description of Lincoln?”

“Yes,” said Jon.



Author’s Note: Three chapters of BROKEN remain, including this one. Thank you so much for following this story. America’s presidential election cycle is upon us and I am wondering if anyone else feels like they are holding their breath, hoping to ride out the tidal wave no matter which way it turns? I wish my metaphorical cave was deeper.  I plan to take a short hiatus after posting the end of this book. I need to focus on a graphic novel I am working on, while writing my next novel which I am currently calling The Shaman’s Mirror. I will start blogging again after we usher in 2021. If you want to finish BROKEN quickly instead of reading weekly, follow the link at the end of this chapter.


A court could argue that everything that happened to Jonathan Tyler was because of a choice he made, but Inspector Marcus Balmario had worked vice too long. He had seen too many unaware teens fall into webs designed to trap them. Hell, adults fell into them. “When did you meet Charlie Marchesi?” he asked.

Jonathan said, “The night I arrived in Detroit. He offered me a place to stay. I couldn’t afford it, but he said I could work the morning shift at his Bar and Grill to pay for expenses.” The boy squirmed, uncomfortable in the cold, metal chair across from Marcus at the table in one of the 12th’s interrogation rooms. His injuries were far from healed, but he had been released from the hospital, and the sooner they conducted this interview, the sooner a decision could be made about his future.

“And did you accept his offer?”


“So you stayed the night and worked for him the next day. How long did you work for Charlie?”

“I worked that morning, a full shift. He paid me, and it covered my bill, but people don’t make very much here.”

“Just the facts,” said Balmario.

Jon took a deep breath. “The pay for all that work wouldn’t cover the cost of the room for another night. He offered me a job on the night shift.”

“Did he know you were fifteen?”

“No. I led him to believe I was an adult.”

All heads turned toward him. Today’s team consisted of Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler as Jon’s parent in attendance, Chief Maureen Thompson, a defense attorney, and a counselor from Social Services. They knew that Charlie Marchesi, as he was known by this boy, did not believe for one moment that Jon was anything other than a fifteen year old runaway that stepped into his trap. But Marchesi was in Witness Protection, and therefore any crimes committed were FBI business.

“So, he hired you for a night shift. Doing what?”

“Well, I expected to do the same, wait tables, clean, help in the kitchen.”

“But that is not what you did?” said Balmario. What Jon did, he assumed, was probably illegal.

Jon was clearly thinking how to proceed with the story. He had to hand it to the kid. He was quick on his feet. He would either make a good cop or a good criminal. Jon surely suspected that Charlie knew he was a minor, but he had probably used every trick he could to lead everyone around him to the belief that he was an adult. It was an important distinction. Guilty sweat beaded across Jon’s upper lip.

Why feel guilt all of a sudden? What just changed? “Jon, just spit it out.”

“They probably knew I was fifteen. Shit. Rat knew that. He called me on it. I don’t know how to continue.” he said.

Of course. Jon knew he would implicate himself. Balmario said, “Let’s start with the shift you worked in the morning.”

“It was hard work.”  

Balmario leaned forward. “We need to know exactly what you did at Marchesi’s Bar and Grill.”

“I worked the kitchen, slicing meat, making sandwiches, cleaning dishes. I set tables, took orders, served brunch. Then I swept so the next shift wouldn’t have to.”

“So you sliced meat.” It was an illegal job activity for someone Jon’s age. “Did you serve alcohol?”

“Not on that shift,” said Jon. “I did whatever I was told that day. The head cook, his name was Hawg, made sure I got breaks and had food to eat. Rat Snatcher took me under his wing.”

Balmario said, “Rat Snatcher, tell me about him.”

“Is he a suspect in one of your open cases?”


“It was weird. Dad?”

“Go on.” It was the first time Jack spoke up.

Jon said, “It was like he was sent there to watch over me. At the MMA meet that night, Charlie was serving food and drinks. Snatcher was a bouncer or something. Whenever Alles gave me trouble, Snatcher pulled me out of it.”

“Alles? Allessandro Santorini?” said Balmario.

“Yes. Rat sent me home that night because I spilled drinks on one of the patrons, and Alles was already on my case. He gave me a hundred dollars and told me to run back to the bar. I was supposed to wait for him there.”

“Who gave you a hundred dollars?”

“Rat Snatcher. He gave me ten more for food. He said the money was for Charlie. Then he told me to run back to the bar and made me follow the man whose suit I ruined with the drinks. I followed him out the door. He tried to pick me up for a ride, but I told him no and ran instead.”

“Let me ask you something,” said Balmario. “Did you know what the hundred was for?”

“I didn’t then, but I do now.” Jon paused.

“Go on.”

“I followed the man so that everyone would think I had picked up some work.”

“What kind of work?”

Jon gazed at his father. Balmario could see the wheels turning. What was he leaving out of his story because his father was sitting next to him? Then, Jon’s resolve kicked in, and his eyes lit with fire behind them.

“Rat wanted everyone to think I was going to have sex with that man.” Then his eyes filled with tears. Shit.

Balmario said, “Let me recap this. You worked two shifts for Marchesi that day. One at the Bar and Grill, the other at an MMA meet where Marchesi’s Bar and Grill provided food and drink. Part of the expectations were that you make yourself available for sex. Did you know that when you agreed to the second shift?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you know that sexual favors might be expected of you?”

“No, but Rat was weird about it.”

“He was weird about it?”

“Yes. He told me to keep my head down, and to avoid talking to the patrons.”

Balmario nodded. Maybe Rat Snatcher was trying to keep this kid safe. “What else did you do? Did you serve food? Drink?”

“I was serving drinks.”

“Was alcohol being offered?”


“Did you serve it?”

“Yes.” Jon wiped tears from his eyes.

“You spilled drinks on a man and then were expected to follow him and offer sexual services.”

“Yes, no. No. I was supposed to pretend to offer them.”

“If you had to pretend, I am assuming that if you left the meet for any other reason, you would have been in trouble?”

“I guess.” Jon shrugged.

“Were you bullied by these people?”

“I don’t know.”

Jack rolled his eyes, sat back into his chair, and crossed his arms.

If Balmario could throw darts with his eyes, he’d do it now. “Let me put it this way. Was your life in danger?”

“I don’t know.” Jon shrugged. “I didn’t want to be put into a cage.”

“A cage?”

“It’s a thing I saw.”

“I want to know more about these cages,” said Marcus Balmario.

“I saw men in cages, fighters. I was told not to look at them. I know Rat didn’t want to get thrown into one. He said if I was thrown into a cage, people would gladly pay to see me fight and die. Then, he told me to leave. I was supposed to run back to Marchesi’s, and to wait for him there. He gave me the money so I could pretend I had a reason to get out of there.”

Dammit. Balmario and the Vice team had been trying to break into one of these illegal MMA meets for months. They never met in the same place twice. He and his team were still unclear about the method of invitation to one of these things. If Rat Snatcher was part of the staff, the FBI had an in. Jon could have put their entire operation into jeopardy. He was sure that is why the Bureau pulled Snatcher, Evan Fischer, and Marchesi out from under their jurisdiction so quickly.

There was still the matter of under aged children working illegally. “Were there other children at the meet serving drinks and soliciting sex?”

“There were others. I don’t know if they were children.” Jon shuddered and he gasped as tears flooded his face

His father grabbed his hand. “Hey, hey.”

Balmario waited for it to pass.

Jon took his hand from his father’s and wiped his face on his sleeve. He took a couple of deep breaths. “There was another boy at the MMA meet. His name was Lincoln.” Jon hiccoughed. “Lincoln knew how to do the business. He flirted with the patrons. He told me I could make more money that way. He was surprised that Marchesi let me work the fight so quickly. Most of the others had to do grunt work first. That’s what Lincoln said.”

“Okay,” said Balmario.

Jack said, “But Rat didn’t want you participating in the secondary business of sex trafficking.”

“I figured that out the next day.”

Balmario said, “You stayed a second night at Marchesi’s?”

“Yes, uhm, no. My things did. I left my bag there, my letter jacket, but I was out all night. It took me a long time to run back to the bar from the warehouse. I was supposed to wait for Rat, but the boy upstairs called me up for a favor.”

Jon was shaking again. Balmario wondered how far he could push him before he broke down completely. Social Services was getting antsy, but the attorney was calm and attentive. Jack was a rock, and Maureen was madly making notes of her own. He said, “Let me recap this favor, because you have already told this story.”

Jon sniffed and nodded.

“Evan Fischer, purported son of Charlie Marchesi, aka Calogero Conti, had a liaison with Sobrina Morelli. She was pregnant and had asked for help with midwife fees. You were asked to run the money to the midwife. There you witnessed a birth. The baby was dead, at which point you took it, and ran away from the scene.”

Jon gasped. “She handed me the baby and told me to run. Someone was trying to break down her door.”

“You left the baby on the street.”

“In an alcove of a pharmacy. I left it somewhere safe, and it was dead.” Jon was clearly getting worked up.

Clearly hitting a touchy point, Balmario backed up. “This was during the meet, after the meet, on another day?”

“I ran from the meet, and Evan asked me as soon as I arrived back at Charlie’s. I ran to the midwife, and then I ran back towards the Bar and Grill. I got lost, I stopped. I put the baby down. I couldn’t pick it back up. It was dead. It was dead.”

Jon dissolved. Great, wracking sobs choked him. Balmario let the recorder run for ten more seconds, capturing his agony, and then clicked it off. “We’re going to take a ten minute break. Does he drink chocolate? I’m going to get him some.”

Maureen and Jack hovered over Jon as Balmario stepped out the door. Teen interviews were always messy, but this one was heartbreaking, not just because the boy was one of their own, but because in the short time he was in Detroit, his life view had been completely shattered. How was he still holding up his head? Poor kid had lived through enough traumas to be considered at risk for severe PTSD. He would spend a lifetime knitting broken pieces together.



(Author’s Note: This is the first of the last four chapters of BROKEN. Thank you so much for following this story. It was important for me to write it, and I am grateful to the characters for agreeing to take part in it, but also to all of you for following their story. I will be taking a short hiatus after the end, and will start the blog again after the new year of 2021 starts. If you want to finish BROKEN quickly instead of reading week to week, follow this link. The chapter starts right after it.)


Inspector Marcus Balmario reached for the door to Jonathan Tyler’s room when he saw his father, Inspector Jackson Tyler get off the elevator and walk toward him. He had invited Jack to sit in as Jon’s attending parent while he interviewed him.

“Balmario,” said Jack.

“Tyler.” Balmario nodded. “How’s the ex and her new hubby?”

Jack cocked his head. “He’s hardly new. I suspect she had him lined up in the wings before she divorced me,” he said, but there was not a trace of bitterness in his voice. “However, they are settling into the hotel. Are we ready?”

“Still waiting on Social Services,” said Balmario.

The Social Services Recorder stepped off the elevator.

“I guess your wish is his command,” said Jack.

Balmario said, “Let’s get this over with.”

While Jack explained the proceedings to his son, Marcus set up a small table for the Recorder near the bed. When he finished, he said, “Is everybody ready?”

“I’m ready, Sir,” said the Recorder.

“How about the two of you?” said Balmario, catching Jack’s attention.

“Jon?” said Jack.

Jon nodded.

“I’ll ask questions for clarity, but mostly I just want to hear your story,” said Balmario.

Jon said, “Okay.”

“For the record, please state your name and age.”

“Jonathan Tyler, fifteen.”

Marcus said, “Let it be known that the subject, Jonathan Tyler, aged fifteen is considered a minor and therefore accompanied by a parent, Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler of the 12th Precinct, Detroit PD. Jon has suffered a brutal attack and has agreed to answer questions. Please confirm this is correct.”

Jon nodded.

“Use words, Jon,” said Jack.

“Yes, that is correct.”

“Jon, do you understand you have been arrested for three crimes: truancy, shoplifting, and prostitution?”


“If, during the course of this interview, it is determined that you have broken laws, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. Do you understand?”

“I understand.”

“Who beat you, Jon and why?”

“I don’t know the name of the man.”

“Can you describe him?”

“He was tall, wore a plaid shirt. He wore boots. His face was angry.”

“Do you think you could describe him to an artist?”

“Maybe. I was scared.”

“How did you meet this man?”

“Uhm. He pulled up to the corner and grabbed me.”

“What corner was that, Jon?” said Balmario.

Jon shook his head.

“Words, Jon,” said his father.

“We were near the university. The guys I was with said – “

“There were others with you at the time you were beaten?”

“No, that’s not what I meant. I was working a corner with them, but they had left. That’s when the man drove up. He came after they left.”

Marcus paused a moment and regarded Jon. His gut told him that this kid was about to admit to a crime. Whether or not he was a teen and protected by Safe Harbor laws, there were still consequences, especially if he was there of his own free will. “Jon, it’s very important to be careful with details and the timeline. Do you understand?”

Jon avoided his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “I don’t know.” 

If Balmario could have a penny for every teen that looked away while shrugging and saying ‘I don’t know’ to avoid answering a question that could possibly get them into trouble, he would be a rich man.

“Just tell me in your own words.”

He could always re-question Jon to clarify if necessary.

The Recorder said, “He pulled up to the corner and grabbed me. Start there.”

“He grabbed me. It hurt. He shoved me in his car and drove away.”

“Can you describe the car?”

“It was silver. I’m sure it was a CT6. My grandfather and I saw one at a show.”

“Let’s get back to what happened next.”

“I tried the doors, but they wouldn’t open. Neither would the windows. I was locked in. I told him I didn’t want to work for him, but he wouldn’t listen.”

Balmario glanced at Jack. It seemed that Jon was guilty of more than one prostitution charge.

Jack bowed his head.

Balmario said, “Go on.”

“He stopped at an auto body-shop.”

“Do you think you can identify it?”

“Maybe. I wasn’t thinking about it. It had lights across the ceiling. I saw them when we went inside. Another man came out of an office. I recognized him.”

“From where?”

“He was in an alley behind Marchesi’s Bar and Grill. The Morelli brothers had taken Alles, Charlie, and Evan as prisoners.”

“Please stop the recording.”

“Sir, I really can’t.”

“This interview may be over. Jon, sit tight a minute. Jack, and you,” he pointed to the Recorder, “hallway.”

Marcus shut the door behind them. “We should have counsel for this kid before we continue. If Morelli is involved in this, I want everything by the book.”

“Agreed,” said Jack.

“I don’t understand,” said the Recorder. “Isn’t this a simple child endangerment case?”

“Child endangerment, yes. Simple no,” said Balmario. “If the person that Jon claims was present, his testimony could be pertinent to at least two dozen open cases of human trafficking and homicide. At the very least, we should call Chief Thompson and Captain Jamison.”

Jack said, “Agreed.”

“The Recorder said, “I have another testimony to take in forty minutes.”

“We’ll have to get our own people in here to finish. Do you have some sort of paperwork I can sign that would exonerate you from derelict of duty and allow our tapes to be used for your purposes?”

“Sure. They’re in my briefcase.”

“Good. Jack, you get the papers, reassure your son. I’ll call Thompson and Jamison and the usual attorney that works for Vice. Maybe we can move a conference table in.” He pointed at Jon’s room.

The Recorder said, “I will have to notify the custodial parents.”

“Understood,” said Jack.

An hour and a half later, Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson said, “For the record, Jonathan Tyler, aged fifteen, is considered a minor and therefore accompanied by in situ parentis, Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler of the 12th Precinct, Detroit PD, and custodial parent, Meghan Bordeaux, Hartmann Law Firm, Stockton, California, and her husband, Mr. Phillip Bordeaux. In attendance are Inspector Marcus Balmario and Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson, both 12th Precinct, Detroit PD, and defense attorney, Mary Styfford.

“Jonathan is a victim of a brutal attack and has previously stated that he was grabbed from the corner of Forest Avenue and Mitchell by a man driving silver CT6. Said man was tall, wearing a plaid shirt and boots. Jonathan has given a description to the Precinct artist and a bolo has been issued. This man took Jon to an auto body shop, which Jon has yet to identify.

“Another man was at the body shop. Jon recognized him as a Morelli. Jonathan. Please verify that this is correct.”


“You have to say, ‘That is correct,’” said the attorney.

“That is correct,” said Jon.

“Jon. I want you to tell us what happened after the man you identified as Morelli stepped out of the office.”

“He hit me. Then he stole my money and found my ID card.”

“Jon. Is this the man who stole my letter?”

Jon’s face colored. “That was other money. I had money stolen two times. God, is it illegal if someone just gives you money when you are sitting on the street?”

Maureen knew she’d be talking to this boy again. “Jon let’s get back to this story. Morelli stole money and took your ID. Then what happened?”

“He told the man in the plaid shirt to teach me a lesson.”

“What lesson was that?”

“He said I couldn’t work one of his corners.”

“Then what,” said Maureen.

“Then Morelli told him to throw my body into the dumpster so the garbage men would take it away.” Jon burst into tears. “First it was Lincoln, now me? How is that fair?”

“Lincoln?” said Maureen.

“He was my friend. He made it seem like I could earn a lot of money working….” Jon shut his mouth and looked at his lap.

Meghan was horrified if the expression on her face was any indication. Jack wasn’t too far behind her. She caught the eyes of both of them. “Jon, before we open too many cans of worms, if I showed you some pictures, could you pick out Morelli?”

“Yes, I think so.” He sniffed and wiped his nose with his hand.

“I’m going to get some pictures sent over. Then I want to hear about all the things you did, all the people you met, all the places you went while you’ve been in Detroit. Do you think you can do that?”


“Balmario,” she said. 

“On it.” He quickly left the room.

Ten minutes later, he returned with a folder of mugshots which included any they had of Morelli brothers. He passed it to Maureen. She put it into Jon’s lap and said, “Take your time. Look at them one by one, and let me know if you recognize any of them.”

Jon looked at each of the five pictures one by one. He said, “No,” after the first two and turned them face down on the bed beside him. He stared at the third one for a long time and set it aside. He looked at a fourth and added it to the pile that was face down. He gasped when he saw the fifth. Emilio Morelli, the youngest brother in the Morelli triad. Then he picked the picture he’d placed to the side and said, I think he was at the confrontation behind Marchesi’s Bar and Grill, also.”

It was the oldest brother. “You know about that?”

“Yeah. Rat Snatcher and I were there, but Rat told me to run.”

“Why were you there?”

“We were going back to Charlie’s. We had just buried Lincoln.”

Meghan gasped, again. Jack reached for her.

“That sounds like something we want to talk about later. Right now, we are talking about the people who hurt you. Are you positive that this man…,” she held up the picture of Emilio Morelli, “was the one who ordered the lesson?”


“Okay. For the record, Jonathan, were you afraid for your life?”

With tears streaming down his face, he said, “Yes.”

“Jonathan Tyler has identified Emilio Morelli as the man who ordered a beat-down to teach Jon a lesson. Jon has indicated it was a death threat.” Maureen clicked off the recorder. “You, young man.” She poked the bed beside him when she said, “You and I are going to record your whole story tomorrow. You read me?”

“Yes,” said Jon. He looked relieved.

She hoped she could find some peace for him, and perhaps his telling of his story would exonerate him from some of his crimes. For now, she decided she had enough information for warrants. She hoped someone would find the man in the plaid shirt. She’d like to give him a beat-down.


Lay It On The Table

Jonathan Tyler stared at the stark hospital room. Dear ol’ Dad sat in the chair at the end of his bed. His snoring reminded him of a cat. But, what was foremost in his mind was the day his father left him, the day he walked away without ever looking back. Jon’s ever-present anger rose, and his stomach churned. Why was he sleeping there? Why the hell didn’t he just go home?

The anger made the machine next to him beep a warning.

Jack woke and slowly straightened his back until he was upright in the chair. “Hey,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

It was a dumb question. He hated the concern in his father’s eyes, so he avoided them as best he could.

“Well, you will have to speak to someone, because officers will be here soon to get a statement from you. They want to know what happened.” Jack scratched his head. “I want to know what happened.”

Jon was pissed. “I want to know why you left.” It was difficult forcing his voice through his swollen lips, but he was pleased his voice was gravelly and deep. It made him sound tough.

“Whoa. Is that what this adventure of yours was about? Why didn’t you just ask me? Why go through all this?”

“You think I planned this?”

“I don’t know, Jon. Did you?” His father stood and paced toward the door.

A nurse bustled in to check on Jon.

Jack said, “I’m going to get some coffee. Can he have hot chocolate?”

The nurse said, “Yes.”

Jon leaned against the pillows and let the nurse fuss over him. Shame, guilt, he didn’t know what to call it, but he was sorry he snapped.

“Are you okay?” said the nurse. “Should I keep him out of here?”

“No.” He smiled at her. “I’m fine.”

“Your job is to rest,” she told him, and then she left.

Jack returned with coffee and hot chocolate. He handed Jon a one of the bananas he had brought with him. “A peace offering,” he said. He set Jon’s cup of chocolate on the bedside table next to him.

“Sorry,” Jon said.

“I’m sorry,” said Jack. “You were too young to understand, and when I tried to explain, I guess it seemed cowardly to do it in a letter.”

“The letter was stolen with my money. I didn’t come here on purpose. It just happened.”

“I’m listening,” said Jack.

Jon sipped his chocolate.

Jack said, “What happened?”

“I have no idea where to start.”

Jack said, “Why did you get on that bus?”

“I needed to get away from school, so I ran. When I saw the bus station, I went there because I was afraid I would get caught if I stayed on the street. People were staring at me like they knew I had run away. I stepped up to the counter and asked for the first city I could think of. Detroit.” He laughed, but his laugh turned into a cough when he struggled with the extra spit forming in his mouth. He struggled a moment then said,  “I’d already been to Sacramento. I didn’t want to go again.”

Jack looked at his hands. Jon couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He didn’t know this man. He had never known how to talk to him.

Jack said quietly, “Do you always carry enough money to buy a ticket as far away as Detroit?”

Jon had saved for months. If he was honest, he had started saving the day after his parents brought him home from Sacramento, the second time he had run away. He wasn’t running from them. They had worked hard to make him happy. It wasn’t their fault his life sucked. He stared at Jack.

Jack’s gaze didn’t falter. “Carrying money like that implies you planned to run.”

“Fine,” he said, a little more belligerently than he should have. “I planned to run away sometime, just not that day. Geez, I’ve been prepared to run away for a long time, but I didn’t know I was coming to Detroit. That part is true.”

“Fair enough,” said Jack. “Why did you run that day?”

“I was tired of the bullshit.” He looked up to see if his father was shocked.

His father said, “What bullshit?”

Jon shut his eyes. How could he admit that he didn’t have the cojones to stand up for himself at school.

“I know about the bullying,” said his father. “Rick told me.”

“He had no business telling you that.” His brother was such a perfect prick.

“Why didn’t you tell your mother, or Phillip?”

“What was I going to say to them? Hey, I’m a screw up because kids at school are picking on me. What could they do anyway? There isn’t anything that could stop it.”

“They could have talked to the principal,” said Jack.

“He doesn’t give a shit. No one does. It’s dog eat dog there. Always has been, always will be. That’s what Rick said.”

Jack said, “Is that why you ran that day?”

Jon arched away from him and stared at the curtains. What was he supposed to say? He was a total loser, a wimp who practically shit his pants every time one of those jocks threatened him. This man used to be his sun and his moon. Now he sat here as his judge. He said, “They took my only copy of Tom Sawyer, the one Hank bought for me. They threw it in the toilet. They tried to flush it. I was pissed.”

They took it. How many were there?” said Jack.

Did it matter how many there were? If there was only one, did it make a difference in how Dear ol’ Dad would see him? He said, “Five.”


“Shit,” yelled Jon. “Does it matter? It was one guy and another outside the restroom. The point is I was sick of the bullshit.”

“Let me see if I understand this. A bully tried to flush a treasured book down the toilet; you ran from campus, ended up at the bus station, and on a whim, boarded a bus to Detroit. Does that sum it up?”

“Yes.” He glared at his father defiantly. It seemed so monumentally stupid the way his father said it. Why couldn’t everyone just leave him the fuck alone?

To be a snot, he said, “Why did you leave?”

Jack sighed. “I don’t know how much your mother has told you about me.”

“I know you’re fucking crazy.”

Jack laughed.

“Is that why you left?” said Jon. 

“I left because your mother convinced me that my crazy was hurting you and Rick. By staying, I was ruining your lives. Leaving was the hardest thing I have ever done.”

Jon blurted, “I never got to play basketball with you and Rick. You never even turned around. I yelled your name, and you never once turned to say goodbye.”

Jack sat quietly, gazing at him.

“Don’t even look at me.”

Jack said softly, “Maybe we can fix that now.”

Could they? Would the play of a simple basketball game erase all the hurt he’d felt his whole damn life?

“How could somebody as crazy as you work for the police? How in hell did you solve a case like the Vampire Killer?”

“That crazy helped me solve the case.” Jack looked mystified, like he hardly believed the words he was saying.

“That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard,” said Jon.

“Did your brother tell you about that case?”

“I saw it in a newspaper after I got here.”

Pain scrunched up Jack’s face. “We lived in San Francisco when the crazy started. I didn’t know how to handle it back then. I am still learning.

“The serial killer, known as The Vampire, was my last case. Huh. It ended just a few days ago. Geez. Anyway, I was one of the lead investigators. It was rough. The officer who helped you yesterday, he lost his partner. Two others were injured, including my partner, Tomio.

“Sometimes, I step into a world that isn’t in front of me. It’s like a vision, but all of my senses are involved, as if I am there. It’s as if I am living the experience of someone else, in that case, the killer.

“Something happened to you. I saw those garbage men throw rocks. I was there when the baby was born.”

The world stopped for Jon. Maybe his heart did too. He hesitated before he said, “I felt disembodied, as if it wasn’t me experiencing that. But I was.” He took a deep breath. “You were there,” he said.

“I was. The police are going to need details and names. It’s one of our open cases. I could verify certain things, but the process isn’t exact. I am not the person whose experience I am sharing. I couldn’t read your mind.”

Jon wiped a tear. Then he wiped another. Dammit. His eyes were flooding. “What happened to the baby?”

“It’s safe in the morgue. It was born dead. You didn’t cause anything to happen to it.”

Jon felt the world slip out from under him as he struggled to breathe. His heart lurched. A sob escaped. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I put it down, and I couldn’t pick it back up.”

Jack moved to the bed and sat.

Why was he such a blubbering fool?

Jack said softly, “Hey, come here.” Then he pulled Jon forward and snuggled him against his chest.

Jon caved then. He sobbed so hard, he couldn’t catch a breath.

Jack crooned softly, “Just breathe, just breathe,’ while he petted his hair.

When Jon could talk again, he said, “I don’t know why she handed the baby to me. Why did she do that?”

“I suspect she knew it was illegal to dump human remains in dumpsters unless wrapped properly. She only had the little baby blanket to put it in. I suppose she had her hands full with the girl and wanted to hand off the responsibility of the baby to someone else. You were there.”

 “I didn’t leave it in a dumpster.”

“I know. Balmario and my chief found it in the alcove of a pharmacy.”

Jon sniffed and wiped his face with his good hand. He didn’t want to leave the shelter of Jack’s embrace, but he didn’t want to be a baby, either, so he sat up and looked at his father.

“When I first met her, I thought she was the most gorgeous girl I had ever seen. Watching her like that….” Jon hiccoughed. “There was so much blood. Blood smells. I didn’t know that. I don’t ever want to do that to a woman.”

“You know why she struggled like that, don’t you?”

No, he didn’t.

“When they are born, babies add hormones that help the mother give birth. This baby wasn’t alive, so it couldn’t add those hormones. When everything goes right, the process looks like a beautiful dance. Jon, you and your mother danced beautifully together. I have never seen anything so wondrous in my life. You were beautiful.” Jack patted his arm. “You remember that.” Then he smiled. “I suspect you have a few more stories about your time in Detroit.”

Jon nodded.

“Save the rest for now.”

A nurse walked in with two breakfast trays. “Are you gentlemen hungry?” he said.

Hungry didn’t even begin to describe the hole in his gut.

Phillip and Meghan Bordeaux arrived at ten-thirty. Meghan looked exhausted, and Phillip looked lost. Jack shook Phillip’s hand and said, “You look like hell.”

Phillip said, “I could say the same of you.”

Jack huffed. “Meghan,” he turned to his ex-wife. “Beautiful as always.”

“Liar. Where’s Jon?”

“He’s upstairs. We need to talk first.”

Phillip said, “Whatever you have to say can wait, Jack. We’ve been worried sick. We just want to get him home.”

“Well, that’s one of the things we need to talk about. Let’s go upstairs. There’s a quiet room where we can talk before you see Jon.”

When they were in the elevator, Meghan said, “I just don’t know why he would do this.”

Phillip added, “We give him everything.”

Jack said, “Maybe I can clear things up for you.” He ushered them to the darkened, quiet room and shut the door. “We’ll have some privacy here for a few minutes.”

“So, get on with it. I want to see Jon,” snapped Meghan. The woman he remembered so vividly suddenly made herself visible.

“First of all, someone gave him a good beating. We are investigating. He’ll be questioned today about it. It will most likely interrupt your visit. Be prepared for that. His injuries will heal, but they’re bad. You need to prepare for that also. Don’t expect to take him out of here. Detroit PD arrested Jon for truancy, shoplifting, and prostitution.”

“What?” shouted Phillip.

Meghan’s eyes threw darts when she looked at him. “Michigan has Safe Harbor laws. You know he can’t be prosecuted for prostitution, so why are you even bringing it up.”

“I’m well aware of the law, Meghan, but when he was arrested, he was an unidentified person because of the brutal beating. The charge will need to be resolved. Also, Jon is a three-time runaway, and the court needs proof that his mistreatment wasn’t a direct result of our actions.”

“That’s insane,” said Phillip.

Meghan deflated. “I was expecting that. It just hurts to hear it.”

As a lawyer, Meghan would know the ins and outs of the law. Children’s welfare wasn’t her specialty, but after Jon ran away the second time, Jack was sure she had done her research.

Jack clapped his hands onto his knees and stood up. “Now you know. He’s hurting. I only heard a small portion of his story, because he only started talking this morning. I hope you have plans to stay. It’s going to be a while to get through the process.”

“I want to see my son,” said Meghan, cool as ice.

Jack led them down the hall to his son’s room. Jon was dozing again, but when they walked in, his eyes popped open. Meghan flew to his side and burst into tears. Mother and son grabbed each other and sobbed together.

Phillip walked to the other side of the bed. When he was close, Jon let go of his mother and reached for him. Phillip gathered him into his arms.

Jack watched them for a moment, a family huddled together, something he didn’t have. Meghan had clearly created a new life for his sons. He knocked lightly on the door.

Jon looked up. “I’ll be back later, Kiddo.”

Jon nodded.

Jack walked away to the sound of them sobbing. For the space of two breaths, he was in San Francisco, walking toward the front gate. Behind him, his littlest was sobbing, “Dada. I want my dada.”

(Author’s Note: Click the following link to find the entire story on Amazon.)



(Author’s Note: Use this link to find the e-book or paperback version to read the full story: https://www.amazon.com/Broken-AV-Singer/dp/B08JF5FR27/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=AV+Singer+Broken&qid=1601476392&sr=8-1)

Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson suspected she needed to be his strength, but she wasn’t prepared for what she found: Jackson Tyler in skivvies, socks on his feet, socks on his hands. His beard was two or three days old, his hair unkempt. He huddled on the floor in front of his couch rocking back and forth.

“The garbage men, the garbage men said,” he mumbled. “They said, the garbage men said.”

“What did they say Jack?” she said as if crooning to a frightened child.

“The garbage men told him he was trash. He was in the trash. The garbage men said.” Jack looked up at her. In a very clear, authoritative voice, he stated, “They threw rocks at him. They thought he was a vagrant. We have to do something about that.”

Then he caved in on himself and began rocking again. “The garbage men, he was in the trash. He was in the trash.”

Maureen sat on the couch near him.

He shied away from her, but he quit mumbling. After a few seconds, he quit rocking.

It was obvious he had been drinking. She wondered how that worked with the medications she was sure he took. Even so, she didn’t see evidence of abandoned bottles or glasses. Did he clean as he drank?

Was he cognizant enough to understand that the team had found Jon? Was it safe for his brutalized son to see him like this? If Jon was as badly beaten as Benny Brown indicated, would seeing his son throw Jack over an emotional and psychic cliff he couldn’t climb up again?

“Did you find him? Did you find him? He was in the trash,” said Jack. “Did you find him in the trash?”

It was better to stick with simple truth and then try to get Jack back on his feet. She contemplated calling Tomio Dubanowski, but he was dealing with his own shit right now and did not need to worry about his partner.

Slowly and quietly she said, “Yes, Jack. We found him. He is safe now.”

Jack sat up. “I want to see him.”

“I want that too, but you can’t go like this. What can I do to help?”

Jack rubbed his face with his socked hands. “I don’t know.”

Her thumb hovered over the keys on her phone. What would Tomio do? He seemed like a tough love kind of guy. She said, “Get up, take a shower, clean up that scruffy beard. Put on professional looking clothes.”

Jack started rocking. “Get up, get up, get up.”

Maureen, mother instincts on full alert, realized Jack wasn’t capable of retaining a string of commands at the moment. “Get up, Jack.”

He got up.

“Shower and shave,” she said.

“Shower and shave, shower and shave.” He walked to the bathroom mumbling shower and shave over and over. Then he shut the door.

She heard the water turn on.

She stood and went to his closet. All his work clothes were on the floor where he’d heaped them and too wrinkled for a professional presentation. She found a pair of jeans hanging next to a nice gray Henley. She had never seen him in a Henley. He probably looked good in it. It was fatherly, softer and more approachable than what she had first had in mind.

She pulled his trashed bed together and left the clothes on top of it. She hoped he would see them when he stepped out from the bathroom. 

She partially closed the bedroom door to give him some privacy. Then she went to his kitchen. It was spotless. The refrigerator was stocked and orderly. The carton of milk smelled fresh and was empty by half. Damn, had he been eating?  

She found sliced turkey, lettuce, and a tomato which she sliced, and made a sandwich. If he could stomach it, the food might settle his anxiety.

Jack joined her, shaved and dressed. He had shoes on. He was shaking like a leaf, but he seemed calm. “Is he okay?” he asked.

“He is safe, Jack. Eat this sandwich, and then we will go see him.”

“What aren’t you telling me, Maureen?”

He sounded like the Jack she knew, but she had only worked through an OCD attack with him on one other occasion. He needed to stay calm if she was going to take him to a hospital to see his broken son. “I know he has some injuries, but they are caring for him, and he is able to move around on his own. That much I know.”

“He’s a strong kid,” he said. Then he gobbled the sandwich.

Jack strode into the hospital ahead of Maureen then stopped abruptly. He didn’t seem to recognize who was approaching as Balmario stepped up to greet him. When Balmario reached out to shake his hand, for a moment, she worried Jack was going to recoil. Instead, he took Balmario’s offered hand and shook it.

“We found your son. I need to speak with you.” Balmario could have been less terse, she thought.  

“Not now, Balmario. I need to see my son.”

Balmario hesitated before he said, “We need to talk first.”

Jack was a statue. His eyes were distant as if his focus was on a scene that only he could see.

Marcus was visibly unnerved and looked to her for direction.

She nodded and mouthed, “Not here.”

Marcus said, “There is a private waiting room upstairs. The X-ray lab is there, and he is in a treatment room on the same floor. Let’s go there.”

As they stepped into the elevator, Jack’s eyes watered. He said, “He was thrown in the trash.”

Maureen stepped close and grabbed his elbow.

Jack said, “I went there, you know. I went to that alley. I couldn’t find him. They threw him in the trash, like garbage.” One tear rolled down his face.

Balmario looked at Maureen. She shook her head.

The waiting room was quiet, and the lights were low. Maureen was grateful for the sudden peace that enveloped them. Marcus sat across from Jack, but she sat next to him in case she needed to ground him with a touch. She had seen Tomio do it often. It was one of the reasons everyone thought they were a couple. 

Marcus took a deep breath. “Jonathan hasn’t said a word since we arrested him.”

“You arrested him?” said Jack. “He’s a runaway, not a criminal.”

“Well, Jack. That is one of the things I need to talk to you about.”

Jack stood. “I want to see my son.”

Maureen put a hand on his arm and said, “Jack, sit down, and let’s get the report first.”

It was the right thing to say. Jack sat, focused on Balmario, and said, “Get on with it.”

“Okay. We picked your son up at Walgreens for shoplifting.” Marcus took another deep breath. “But also for prostitution.”

Jack stood again. “Safe Harbor laws,” he barked.

“Yeah, we hope so,” said Marcus, alarmed at the reaction. “But we need all the facts first.”

Jack rubbed his face with his hands. Then he sat.

Marcus continued. “Someone beat the crap out of him. It isn’t pretty. The arresting officers did not recognize him. You won’t recognize him, Jack, but his fingerprints matched the ones we have on file. That boy is your son.”

“How bad?” said Jack.

“It’s bad. He’s broken,” said Marcus. “Social Services has called for a psych to evaluate his emotional state. You also need to know that Social Services won’t return him to his family until everyone is evaluated. That probably includes you. Is Tomio staying with you? It may include him.”

Jack looked at the ceiling.

Balmario said, “It’s a lot to process.”

Maureen said, “He’s alive, Jack.”

Jack sniffed and nodded. “I gotta get it together. I’m going to wash my face. I need to call Meghan, my ex-wife. I’ll be right back.” He strode to the door. When he got there, he turned and said, “Thank you Marcus. Thank you for watching out for my boy. Where’s the nearest restroom?”

Balmario nodded. “Across the hall,” he said.

Jack sat in a chair at the foot of the bed, watching Jon sleep. His nose had been set, his ribs taped. He wore a brace on his left wrist, another on his shoulder. He wore compression stockings. The doctor had told him that two vertebrae were cracked, but they would heal with rest. Internal organs were bruised. Jon’s body was a battleground, but Jack recognized him. He would have recognized his son without the warning. His dark eyelashes feathered against his cheek, and he had curled his arm, fisted his hand, and rested his chin against it, just as he had always done from the very beginning of his life. One foot stuck out from under the warming blankets. That was just like Jon.

When Jon was little, Jack woke him up with a little shake of his bare toes. He always said, “Hey, sunshine. Time to get up.” Jon’s eyes would pop open a second before he scrambled from under the covers and into Jack’s arms. They’d laugh together, and Jack would blow raspberries against his neck. He couldn’t imagine Jon doing that now, but he reached for the foot and gently tucked it back under the blankets. The touch forced memories of missed dinners and late nights after a long day of battling the streets of San Francisco, of sneaking in to watch his sons sleep.

Twice, a nurse came in and checked Jon’s IV. They were pumping him full of antibiotics and electrolytes. Jon had not moved once since Jack entered his room. He took comfort in the steady quiet rhythm of his breathing. 

He hadn’t been able to reach his ex-wife the first time he called. Meghan had answered the second time. She and Phillip had booked a flight to Detroit as soon as she heard his first message. They would arrive mid-morning. There was no need to leave Jon to pick them up. Phillip had reassured Jack that they would rent a car. Jack didn’t have the heart to tell them about Social Services. It was Jon’s third time running away from their home. The court would not allow him to live with them while he served time. If the court didn’t place him with Jack or a safe house in Detroit, his son was looking at an extended stay in a detention facility.

He lowered his elbows to his knees and cradled his head. How had Jon’s life turned into this nightmare?

His phone buzzed. Tomio.

Two days ago, Tomio’s medical team had moved him to a convalescent unit in the annex across the parking lot. Until the move, Jack had spent as much time as possible with him. 

Tomi’s text read, “How’s Jon?”

Jack texted, “Same.”

“How are you?” The real  question was, ‘How crazy are you?’

“Pulling it together.”

Tom quickly texted back, “You’ve got this.”

Jack wanted to write, “Love you,” but instead he wrote, “Quit worrying.”

Tom texted, “Bye.”

Jack stood and quietly stepped out of Jon’s room to call Tomio’s sister.

“Kimi, it’s Jack Tyler.”

“Jack, Tomio called me. I am relieved to hear that Jon is safe. I’m driving in with the kids. They are looking forward to seeing their uncle.”

“Good. I haven’t seen him for a couple of days and was feeling guilty.”

“Take care of your son, Jack.”

“I will. Thanks, Kimi.”

He stepped back into the room. Jon’s eyes were open. “Hey, kiddo,” said Jack.

Jon turned his face toward the window, avoiding Jack’s gaze.

“I’m not going to grill you, although I have a ton of questions. I’m just glad you’re safe now.” Jack pulled the chair a little closer to the head of the bed and sat.

Jon looked at him but didn’t say anything.

“Someone worked you over pretty bad,” said Jack, surveying the multiple colored injuries on Jon’s face.

Jon squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head. He lifted his uninjured hand to the railing and curled his fingers around it.

Jack gently laid his hand over them.

Immediately, Jon uncurled his fingers and pulled his hand out from under his father’s touch. Then he turned his face away again and stared at the curtains.

“That’s okay,” said Jack. “That’s okay.” He stood and lifted the chair to the foot of the bed. For now, he could give his son space. However, he planned to stay and informed the nursing staff that he would be spending the night with his son. Then he settled in the chair and dozed while Jon slept. 



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A biting cold wind whipped around the corner of East Jefferson and Mt. Elliot. The boy wrapped his arms more tightly around his ribs. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying to ignore cramps that had taken up residence in the muscles of his hips and legs. He stared at the Walgreens building across the street.

People pointedly avoided him as they stepped around his position. He was aware of it, but didn’t have the energy to stare at them. Nor did he have the desire. Dead people didn’t interact with the living, so why should he pay them any mind?

How long had it been? He wasn’t sure how many times night had fallen, how many mornings had come, and how many yesterdays there were. 

The pedestrian light changed and people brushed past him to cross the avenue. It took him a moment to remember how to move his feet. Halfway across, the yellow warning started. He was not able to move as fast as it suggested. He was still a car’s length from the curb when the light flashed, “Wait.”

He stopped.

A driver honked.

He looked up. Was the driver looking for a boy?

The driver hit the dash with his hand, and thrust his middle finger into the air. He honked his horn two more times and revved his engine.

The boy put one foot in front of the other. It was the best he could do.  

When he reached the sidewalk, the man honked again. His tires squealed as he peeled away.

The boy stumbled onto the curb and lurched toward the Walgreens building. He hesitated at the door. Was this the best choice? He had heard that there was a man here who always wore a cobalt tie on the days he was looking for someone. He paid really well, but he would probably want more than a hand job. Soul sapped by the stress of life on the streets, and a beating he had survived, he would probably do whatever the man asked.

He shouldered the door and kept his head down. Edging toward the left row of shelves, he glanced quickly at the cashier’s counter to see if the person there noticed him. She was staring off into space, seemingly unaware of anyone. As fast as he could manage, he hid behind the first shelf, just out of her sight.

His heart was in his throat. God, this was a stupid idea. He could slip out again and take his chances on the avenue.

“Can I help you?” said a man to his right. He was dressed in a hoodie with a ripped front pocket; his jeans had big holes at the knees and rode low on his hips. His runners were impressive and did not match the rest of his outfit.

“Can you see me?” said the boy.

“Are you high on something?” said the man in the hoodie.

“Do you work here?” said the boy. He was looking for the man in the cobalt tie.

“Sure,” said the man. He was not wearing a nametag.

The boy shook his head and backed away from him. He turned and headed toward the back of the store. When he glanced back toward the man in the hoodie, he was playing with his phone. Perhaps aware that someone was observing, he looked up and caught the boy’s eye.

Shit, shit, shit. This was a stupid idea.

On the shelf in front of him was a display of Nabisco’s Fig Newtons. His stomach suddenly cramped with hunger. Did dead men feel hunger? He hesitated a moment trying to remember why he had come into the store. It must have been for food. He grabbed a package and ripped it open.

The man in the hoodie moved closer. He stood quietly in the aisle perusing shaving supplies. When he looked up, he caught the boy’s eyes. Once again, he smiled. 

Mouth full of fig cakes, the boy moved farther into the store. The pharmacy area was empty. Beyond that was a section filled with fishing gear. He stuffed one more fig cake into his mouth and shoved the partially emptied package into his pants. Then he covered it with his shirt and went toward the fishing supplies.

From behind him, someone said, “Excuse me.”

The boy looked up. A thin man in a silver suit with a crooked cobalt tie leaned against the counter of the pharmacy, arms crossed, staring at him.

Oh, yeah. He was looking for a man with a tie.

“Did you pay for that?” The man with the tie spoke quietly.

“Pay for what?” said the boy.

“The Fig Newtons,” said the man. He uncrossed his arms and disappeared for a second. Then he came through a door labeled ‘Employees Only.’ He stepped close. He carefully skimmed his hand over the boy’s torso to the hem of his shirt. Then he pulled it up. “These,” he said. “Have you paid for them?”

“N, n, not yet,” the boy stammered.

“I see.” said the man. “I can help you with that.” As he said it, he lowered the boy’s shirt, letting his fingers gently skim the bruised skin beneath it. “I can help with those, too.”

The boy backed up one step, but the man reached out and wrapped his long, graceful fingers around his wrist. He pulled the boy close enough to whisper, “I pay very well.”

The boy shivered as the man placed a foot in the space between his feet and scooted his knee up his thigh. His cobalt tie tickled his arm where it brushed against it. He leaned into the boy and nipped his ear.

The boy shrank from the touch, but he didn’t step away. He needed food. He needed a warm place to stay. He needed someplace safe where he didn’t have to keep watch for predators.

Behind the man in the cobalt tie, the man in the hoodie stepped into view. “Detroit Police,” he said, flashing a badge that had been hidden under his sweatshirt.

The boy pulled away from the man in the silver suit and tried to run, but he tripped. While he was down, the man in the hoodie cuffed the man in the silver suit. “You two are under arrest for solicitation and prostitution.”

Another man, dressed in uniform, pulled the boy off the floor. He sneered at his face and said, “You like it rough, huh?”

The man in the silver suit swooned.

“Shit,” said the officer in the hoodie. He slapped the suited man’s cheek until he got a reaction.

The uniformed officer patted down the boy and found the Fig Newtons. “Looks like we’re charging you with shoplifting as well,” he said, jerking on the zip ties around the boy’s wrists.

“Hey, careful with that one,” said the officer in the hoodie. “He may be a minor.”

“Well, wouldn’t that be dandy for you,” said the uniformed officer to the boy, but he was gentle as he hauled him out of the store and into the back of his squad car.

Marcus Balmario sat at the counter mulling over the cases he and Chief Inspector Maureen Thompson were working. It was something to do while he waited for the two squads bringing in the prostitution and solicitation cases. The first was a younger man, the second, from his description, was none other than Rodney Heathe. Marcus had a gut feeling that no matter what happened in the next nine hours, today was a win if they could slam cell doors on that man.

Benny Brown strode in dressed in his favorite hoodie, the one he wore undercover all the time. It was a miracle the crooks in Detroit didn’t recognize him by now. He had with him a dapper man dressed in a silver suit accented with a cobalt tie.

“Well, well, well,” said Marcus. “Mr. Heathe. Here you are again.”

Benny said, “We may have a child prostitution case on our hands. Smith is worried about bringing the other one in here. He’s wondering if he should just head over to the hospital.”

Marcus stepped up to Heathe and looked him up and down. He smiled. “Book him.” Then he strode out the door to check on the other detainee.

The uniformed officer was leaning against the roof of his cruiser with one arm. With the other hand, he held the back passenger door open, leaning in toward the person in his backseat cage. He looked up and nodded to Marcus when he stepped out of the building. Then he said, “This one was trembling when I cuffed his hands behind him, sir. Now he’s shaking down to his bones and breathing funny. I’m worried.”

Balmario took his place at the open door and looked at the passenger. His face was a battleground. His gut told him he was looking at a child if fifteen – maybe sixteen years old. “What’s your name, son,” he said softly.

The boy lifted his head, but he was too shaky to look directly at him.

“Are you on something?” said Balmario.

The boy shook his head no and lowered his gaze to his lap.

Balmario ducked into the back seat and propped himself on a knee to get low enough to catch his young prisoner’s eyes. “What’s your name?”

The boy hiccoughed, trying to catch his breath.

Balmario backed out of the vehicle and said, “Get a camera and a fingerprint kit. We’ll start booking here and finish at the hospital. His face looks like someone used him as a punching bag.”

The boy shuddered.

“I know, son. We’re going to take a couple of pictures and get your prints. Then we’ll go to the hospital, probably take more pictures when we clean you up. I want to have a doctor look at those contusions on your face.”

The next breath that the boy took was a sob. Marcus patted his knee.

The boy flinched.

Balmario uttered quietly, “Damn.” Then he backed off and reassured the boy. “We’ll be quick about it.”

Twenty minutes later, Balmario told his officer, “I’ll drive him. You get on those fingerprints. I want to know if this one is in the system as soon as possible.” He was getting a hunch about this boy. The hair color and height matched the description, but he didn’t want to sound the alarm until he knew if he was right, and the boy had no ID and wasn’t speaking to him.

In the hospital, Marcus Balmario stayed with him as witness for the exams but also for comfort. The boy stared into an abyss, shivering while a photographer recorded his injuries. Balmario had never seen such deep contusions. How was this kid alive? He bagged the boy’s clothes. Then he tied his hospital gown so he was fully covered, and helped him sit on the exam table. 

A male nurse from Special Services stepped into the room. “I am here for the forensics exam.”

The boy looked at Balmario with big eyes, eyes that said, “I’ve been through enough already. Can’t you stop this?” His shivering intensified.

Balmario shook his head. “It’s protocol. I will be just outside the door.

When done, the Special Services nurse joined Balmario in the hall. He said, “I see no indication that he has been raped. I took samples anyway. He wouldn’t tell me who beat him or why. He didn’t say anything at all. He just stared at me with those big, sad eyes. I’ll set up Protective Services. Do we know who he is?”

“I’m waiting on fingerprints.”

“Okay. Well, that one cannot go back to his family until we clear them.”

“You’ve seen the FBI BOLO about Inspector Tyler’s son?”

“The runaway? You think that’s who this is?”

Balmario put his hands up. “I hope to God not, but word cannot get out about any of it. We have this kid’s solicitor in booking right now. Jackson Tyler cannot get wind of this until I can confirm my hunch.”

“Keep me in the loop.” He handed Balmario his card.

“I will.” Balmario handed the nurse his.

Balmario opened the door for a second nurse who was entering to start IV’s. He asked her, “Are you testing for drugs?”

She said, “Yes. We are following all the protocols. We’ll be taking him to get X-rays as soon as we have him set up. Has his family been notified? We’ll need signatures.”

“Family has not been determined yet. I’d like to stay with him if I may. Social Services will sign if necessary.”

“Of course.” She held the door with her back, letting him enter first.

While the boy was getting X-rays, Balmario’s phone buzzed. “Benny, what do ya’ got?”

“It’s what you got, man. Jonathan Tyler.”

“Shit,” said Marcus. “Has Tyler been notified?”

“Chief’s on her way to pick him up. No way we’re letting him in here with Heathe.”

“If it’s any consolation, Jon wasn’t raped.”

“Well, that’s one bit of good news then. I’ll pass the word.”

Marcus rubbed his forehead. “ETA on Tyler?”

“Twenty, at most, I’d say. Chief Thompson flew out of here.”

“Got it. I’ll keep an eye.”

“Good. See ya,” said Benny.

“Yeah,” said Balmario. He walked up to Registration and flashed his badge to move forward to the counter. “Anyway I can get word to the folks inside with the boy I brought in?”


“Tell them his name is Jon Tyler, and his father is on his way.”

“Got it.” She finished scrawling the information.

“How long will he be in there?”

“I don’t know.”

“I am going to go to the main reception area to wait for his father. Please have them call me as soon as he is done in there.” He handed over his card.

“I will.”

“Thank you.”

Balmario hoped to meet Jack at the door and fill him in before he saw his brutalized son. He sure as hell would want some warning if the kid was his.



(Author’s Note: Reading about life on the street is not for the faint or heart. You have been duly warned.)


Jackson Tyler often woke disoriented and unsure of reality. It’s just the way his life was. Sometimes his mind focused on reality, sometimes it focused elsewhere. Right now, it was elsewhere. He suspected his host was his son, Jonathan; that this weird dreamscape superimposing the breakfast in front of him was Jon’s actual landscape: dark alleys, hulking dumpsters, street people, and last night a sexual encounter he prayed was his own fantasy about his partner overlaid onto the worry about his son. His right hand still tingled as if he had done the deed himself.

With that hand, he dipped a piece of toast in his second cup of coffee. His phone buzzed in the distance. He threw the toast onto the table and ran to get it from the bedside table where he’d left it. He missed the call, but a text buzzed through. It was from Maureen.

Officers pursued teen. Pulled prints. Matched Jon. Presumed alive & hiding in the city. Alive, Jack.

He punched in her number.

She answered, “Thompson.”

“Thank you,” he said.

“We have people on the street actively looking. Jack, we’ll find him. Keep your phone with you.”

“Thank you,” he said, again.

She clicked off.

Jon grabbed food from a breakfast bar on the Riverwalk. He had money left for a thrift shop purchase. He needed a jacket. He stayed in shadows when he could, dipped into alcoves to watch traffic, and tried to stay alert. Running into a Morelli was a death sentence. Relief washed over him when he stepped through the door of the thrift shop with its jumbled shelves and friendly looking people. He found a jacket right away that fit him. He also bought a knit hat that could fold down over his ears at night. An older woman found a fifty-cent sale on a pair of mittens for him that coincidently matched the hat.

After his purchases, he still had enough money for snacks, but he needed more for a good meal. He couldn’t take a chance at any of the soup kitchens, because his picture was plastered on the walls.

However, what he needed to do to earn money didn’t seem like a daylight activity. So, he wandered for the rest of the day, sticking to shadows and studying people. Lincoln came often to his mind. He spoke as if offering sexual favors was an ideal way to make money. Jon wished he were here so he could learn more from him. His death was a heavy weight to bear. Jon had no illusions about how he died. It wasn’t from a heart attack. The simple fact was that he died from the punishment for skimming money. Jon had no desire to go the same way, face down on the filthy cement with his hole reamed by a dozen brutal men. Lincoln’s problem was that he worked for a pimp. Jon planned to be his own man. All he had to do now was to figure out where sex workers plied their trade when the sun set.

By the time the sun went down, the only people Jon passed were a couple of panhandlers. Where did people congregate to solicit sex? There had to be a district somewhere that folks felt safe enough to advertise their talents.

His wanderings took him back to the soup kitchen where he’d first discovered that the FBI had plastered posters with his face all over the walls inside and out. By chance, he saw the group of three colorfully dressed people that had stood behind him in line yesterday. They were going in to the building, presumably for dinner. He waited outside for them to leave the kitchen, then, quietly followed them.

After traversing one block, the tallest, a young man dressed in flowing silk tie-dye turned and said to him, “Are you following us Young Warrior?”

Jon froze.

The young man laughed. “We have ourselves a shadow,” he said to his fellow walkers.

The other two turned as one and smiled at him. A short, stocky boy with a wolfish grin said, “I remember you. You stood in front of us in line yesterday.”

Jon took a step toward them and stopped.

“So, come on,” said the first young man. “You might as well hang for now. It’s pretty clear you don’t have a damn clue what you are about.” He introduced himself as Sparkle.

The one that grinned was aptly named Smiley, and the other was Girlie, though Jon couldn’t decide whether Girlie was male or female. Jon introduced himself as Sawyer, because by now he was used to responding to it.

Jon told them about his experience the night before and the twenty dollars he had made.

“Damn, girl,” said Girlie, which may have been why he or she was so named. “That’s a lot. Most I ever made was twelve, and that was because the guy gave me a twenty percent tip.”

Jon asked, “Do you work for yourselves or for someone?”

“No one works for themselves, gorgeous,” said Smiley.

Jon told them Lincoln’s story and why he wanted to. Sparkle sniveled and tears ran down his face. “Poor Lincoln. We all hoped he’d be okay when Charlie snapped him up. But then, Alles Santorini came along, and we worried. Rightly so, I guess,” he said with a sob.

“I don’t know if any of them are alive. Rat Snatcher told me to run, and I did. I heard gunshots, but I…I just don’t know.”

“Rat Snatcher watched out for you,” crooned Smiley. He reached out and fingered a lock of hair that was peeking from under Jon’s knit cap. He smoothed it behind Jon’s ear. “Well, you need to learn the trade, then,” he said. “You hang with us, tonight.”

“Are you sure?” said Jon.

“Absolutely,” they chorused.

“A friend of Lincoln’s is a friend of ours,” said Sparkle.

The three friends had a car. They drove north to the University and then turned east, explaining that Downtown was too heavily policed to ply the trade there anymore. They had better luck here, where the lines between city and suburbia were fuzzy. After a couple of hours, Jon wondered where he got the idea that he could make a sizable amount of money doing this? As soon as he thought it, he earned ten dollars for a quick ‘handy.’ Ten dollars wasn’t bad for a few minutes of effort.

Sparkle threw him at two women who wanted to finger each other while watching him jerk off. He earned ten dollars from each of them and had the thrill of his life. He smiled at his money and stuffed it into his wallet. He now had thirty dollars, which seemed like a lot considering that physical effort was minimal and pleasurable.

The trio then decided to move on, and because Jon was having luck with that corner, they wished him luck and left to pursue their business elsewhere. His business as a self-employed man slowed down. It was possible that a corner was good for only a couple of tricks. Maybe this was part of the lesson he had to learn. The others had each worked a couple of johns and then moved on. All totaled, that was quite a lot of business for that one corner. Besides, in his opinion, three was already a crowd. They had graciously added him as a fourth. He didn’t blame them for leaving.

He was about to give up. Thirty dollars would get him through tomorrow. As he stepped away from the corner, a silver CT-6 rolled up and parked in front of him. Jon was a half inch shy of six feet tall, but the man who got out of the black sedan was taller by at least two inches. Wearing a plaid button down and jeans, he grabbed Jon’s upper arm with a grip of iron.

“Ow,” said Jon.

“Shut up, bitch,” said the man. He threw Jon into the back seat of the sedan. 

Jon tried the door. Childproof locks prevented him from opening it.

The man sat behind the wheel and slammed the front door. As he engaged the engine, Jon jerked the back door again. The man glared at him in the mirror as he gunned the engine and pulled away from the curb.

Jon trembled in the back seat with eyes wide open, watching the city roll past. “Where are you taking me?” he asked, in a voice that was not as deep or mature as he would have liked.

“You’ll see when we get there,” said the man.

The tone in the man’s voice set off louder warning bells. “What will we be doing?”

“You’ll see soon enough.”

Terror crawled into Jon’s throat. His voice cracked when he screamed, “Let me out. I don’t want to work for you.”

“You ain’t got a choice, bitch.”

Jon jerked the handle on the back door, even though he knew the safety lock was engaged. He tried opening the window, but it was inoperable as well.

Just when his panic was big enough for him to jump into the front seat and take his chances with the driver, the man pulled into a lot in front of a small auto body shop.

Jon prepared to run as soon as the door opened.

The man got out of his seat and slammed the front door in one fluid motion. When he opened the back door, he must have been ready for Jon’s reaction, because as Jon flew out the door, the man grabbed and jerked his left arm. A shout of pain ripped from his throat and then he fell hard onto his butt in front of the man’s boots. The man hauled Jon to his feet and marched him into the garage, which surprisingly didn’t have any cars in it even though it was lit with flood lights across the ceiling.

A man who was taller than the one that had a vice grip on his arm, stepped out of the office. He seemed familiar, and Jon’s memory flashed on the confrontation he’d witnessed between Marchesi and the Morelli brothers. He couldn’t help gasping.

“Who’s the tough guy, now?” sneered the taller man. “You think you can work one of my corners for free?”

“What?” Jon gulped. “What are you talking about?”

The man swung his hand, using the force of his entire arm to backhand Jon’s face.

Jon flew, landing flat against the filthy garage floor.

“I don’t take kindly to fresh meat comin’ in here thinkin’ they can take over my territory. You owe me.”

“What are you saying?” Jon didn’t want to snivel, but that’s how the question flowed past his lips. In his mind, Alles was shaking his head and saying, “Topino. What did you get yourself into?”

Alles was dead. This man and his brother killed him. They probably killed Charlie and Evan, too. For all Jon knew, Rat Snatcher and Hawg were dead as well, and now he was going to join them. They’d find his body in the river, and his father would be told. He would probably have to identify him. Would Jack be sad?

“Check him for money,” the man said to the driver.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Morelli,” said the man in the plaid shirt.

Morelli. The man in plaid confirmed his worst fear. Jon lay on the cement, unresponsive as the man in plaid emptied his pockets. He found Jon’s wallet and threw it at Morelli.

Morelli took the money. Then he said, “What have we here?” He had found Jon’s ID. “Says here, you go to school in Stockton, California.” He kicked Jon’s hip viciously. The toe of his boot was sharp, and Jon barely heard him say, “You ain’t in Stockton no more,” because the sudden pain took all his attention.

“Auntie Em, Auntie Em,” chided the man in the plaid shirt.

“Teach him a lesson, then throw him in the garbage. A truck will pick up the body for us in the morning.”

So, he was dead. Would his parents, all three of them, miss him when he was gone? Jon looked out the door, calculating his chance to make one last, mad dash for it. A short, stocky kid leaned against the sill. When he noticed Jon staring at him, he grinned. His big, toothy smile gleamed in the glare of the flood lights. Smiley.

The driver grabbed Jon’s aching arm and dragged him toward a door at the back of the garage. Jon scrabbled to get his feet under him, but the man’s strides were swift and long. His spine scraped against the cement, and a flare of burning pain made him woozy. The best he could do was a one-legged kick against the floor, which lifted his body long enough for cool air to sooth his raw skin each time he managed it. The relief from the burn helped him focus. 

Outside the man dropped him.

Jon pushed himself up against the wall. He faced the man and crouched into first position, ready for whatever the man threw at him. He didn’t expect the strike from above as the man jumped up and came down double fisted on his left shoulder. Jon crumpled to the ground.

The man hauled him up and slammed him against the wall. Then the punches kept striking, one after the other until Jon could no longer catch his breath without sniffing blood into his sinuses. The man didn’t stop. He pounded Jon’s ribs and stomach until he couldn’t catch his breath. When Jon fell to the ground, the man savagely kicked him repeatedly.

Barely conscious, Jon was aware of flopping over the man’s shoulder. He could see sidewalk flow past as one foot and then the other heeled into view. The surface of his boot was weirdly reflective, and one drop of blood splattered onto it as the foot passed beneath Jon’s face. Then his vision blacked out.

He was aware of falling, of hitting cardboard, empty cans, and something wet and squishy. Rubber slammed against metal. There was sudden, muffled quiet. He was thankful when he heard the man walk away.

Jon lay in the dark on a bed of trash, wondering if consciousness continued after death. He didn’t believe so before now, but he didn’t see how he could have survived that beating. Time passed. Jon slept and woke, and then slept again.

Beep, beep, beep. The vibrations of a large garbage truck roused him. Beep, beep, beep. The signal was infinitesimally louder with each beep. He needed to sit up. More than that, he needed to climb out of this dark cave.

He felt more than heard the claws bump against the dumpster. It was enough to galvanize his resolve. If he was going to live, he had to leave, now. He pushed on the lid and grabbed the edge of the dumpster. With sudden strength, he pulled and slid through the opening between lid and lip. He fell onto dirt as the great truck lifted the big, metal canister over a gaping maw in its side and shook it.

He limped away from the truck and the dumpster, but not fast enough to avoid the earthquake under his feet when the truck dropped the heavy can back onto the ground. Not fast enough to avoid the small pebbles thrown at him by the truck operator as he hollered, “Get the hell outta here, you filthy vagrant.”

He stopped on the corner, clutching his ribs and peering at the city around him. He had no idea where he was. There was a vacant lot across the street, though, with a small scraggly tree. He stumbled across the pavement, over the sidewalk, and into the empty lot. He sank to the ground. It was all he was capable of for now.


Trial and Error

(Author’s Note: Warning, warning. Strong sexual content. Do not read if that offends you. You can contact me with a note at the bottom of this blog to get a synopsis, if you want to avoid graphic content.)

Jack gazed out the window in Emilia Rodriguez’s apartment. She was another casualty of this weird, convoluted convergence of cases. Emilia, stressed to near hysteria on the night of the miscarriage and involved with factions addicted to vengeance, undoubtedly suspected that the birth would be fatal. Had she guessed that it would kill the mother also? Had she suspected her own demise? Is that why she chased Sawyer out the window with the evidence? Was she convinced that the people knocking might kill him as well? He couldn’t help wondering what it would feel like to experience someone else’s death as if it was his own.

He shook the dream from his mind. He didn’t question the Morellis’ involvement. There was just no proof. Even if the DNA from hair follicles tied mother to baby, there was no proof that she was a Morelli. There was only his story, and that was nothing substantial. There was no case. As usual. What the hell good was he?

CSI had found multiple fingerprints on the window. There was enough detail for a clear comparison. He had called his ex-wife for copies of his son’s prints, made with a kit she ordered from the National Child ID program that she had stuck in his keepsake book. She had sent them within minutes. It was just a matter of time now as AIFIS compared the prints to a national database, and the shop techs compared them to the ones Jonathan’s mother had sent.

CSI technicians were packing up their equipment. There was nothing more they could do in Emilia’s flat.

The young tech he was working with said, “Sir, would you like to talk about it?”

He turned his attention from the window and directed at her. What could he say that would not sound completely insane?

Her phone buzzed. She listened a moment, nodding and mumbling affirmative. Then, she hung up. Her jaw was clenched, her fingers fisted and then relaxed.

He said, “No match?”

“Not on AIFIS, sir. But, the prints your wife sent….”

Jack’s knees folded, and he sat hard onto the bed. It bounced a couple of times.

She said, “Sir?”

He stared at the floor, but in reality, he saw nothing. The strings in his heart, the strong cords that bound him to the people he loved, tangled and twisted into a hard knot that was difficult to breathe around. “Jonathan, Jonathan. What the hell have you done?”

Jonathan wandered most of the day, staying close to buildings to take advantage of shadows. As the sun fell, he stopped across the street from Wahlburgers. Two people were panhandling next to it. He sat in the shadow and watched as they begged for money. One person stopped to throw a couple of bills at the first person. The second he ignored, just like the rest of the people who scuttled past, avoiding the predicament as best they could. What a futile way to make money.

Two people walked past Jonathan on his side of the street. The second threw a fiver at his feet.

“Uh, sir? You dropped this?” he said.

“No, son, I didn’t. Go buy yourself a sandwich.” Then he walked on.

“Well,” said Jon, shocked. “Thank you,” he yelled after the man. In the next three minutes, two more people threw dollar bills at him. Each time it surprised him and each time he managed to croak out, “Thank you.”

After two more people walked past, an elderly woman with a big purse stopped in front of him. He prepared himself for a chastising.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

He automatically said, “Sawyer.”

“As in Tom? By Samuel Clemens?” she said.

He nodded.

“Then, I am sure that is not your real name, is it?”

He looked at her and smiled weakly.

She opened her big purse and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. “There is a thrift shop two blocks from here.” She pointed behind her. “I just dropped off some old jackets. Buy yourself a coat, young man.” She walked on.

Jon stood and pulled his wallet from his back pocket. He carefully tucked the bills next to the three dollars he had left. He did need a coat. His was in the back of Rat’s van. Right now, though, he needed food. Wahlburgers looked like a safe place to eat, and it wasn’t crowded.

As he neared the restaurant, a man ran up behind him and pushed him into the wall. As the man twirled around him, Jon caught a glimpse of his wallet in the man’s hand. “Hey. Hey, that’s mine,” he shouted.

The man took off running. Jon ran after him.

The man dashed down a side street. As he passed a small, garbage bin, he threw Jon’s wallet into the air behind him. It landed on the lip of the bin and then fell into it. The man turned left at the end of the alley and was gone.

Jon peered over the rim. Thankfully, the bin was empty except for a sheaf of cardboard. His wallet lay open next to it. Jon leaned into the bin and retrieved it. His money and the letter from his father were gone. His ID was still in place.  

There was no point staying here. He slumped against the wall and covered his face in his hands. He really wanted to eat, but without money….

This adventure had been his choice. He wiped the tears from his eyes and looked around. He dusted off his pants and wandered to the back of the restaurant. The establishment had garbage bins locked behind a chain link fence. Who locked up garbage?  

He decided to sit in the shadow where he sat before, across the street. Maybe the evening crowd would throw money at him.  

No one stopped. He sighed. It was time to hunt for a food kitchen.

He headed toward the thrift shop, which seemed a likely place to connect with others needing a helping hand. He was right. Next to the thrift shop was a building marked St. John’s House of Rest. The doors weren’t open, but there was a small line of people against the wall waiting. He stood at the end of it. Three colorfully dressed people got into line behind him. They jostled each other and laughed. His ears perked up when he heard one of them say, “He paid fifty dollars just to get a stiffy. He didn’t want to take it all the way.”

“I’ve never heard of that,” said another one.

The people behind him reminded him of Lincoln. Eager to work the MMA meet, he promised it was worth it for the money. When he and Rat tended Lincoln’s body, Rat had confirmed there was a lot of money to be made working the ‘corners.’ At the meet, he had handed Jon a hundred dollar bill which Jon used to impress Marchesi. Jon’s story was that he hooked up with the man whose suit he ruined with spilled drinks. When he gave Marchesi the money, he claimed, “Blowjob.” Neither Charlie, Hawg, the cook, nor Rat batted an eye. A hundred dollars for a blowjob was unimaginable. Was it something he could do? He just didn’t roll that way. However, he couldn’t imagine doing a woman either.

What he could imagine was a hand job. As a freshman at Stagg High School, he had witnessed a couple of the football jocks at school giving each other a hand job. He was shocked, not by the act itself, but because they were touching each other. He and Rollo, his best friend back home, had whacked off together a couple of times, but sleeping bags covered them, and they didn’t touch each other, so he knew what to do. How much money he could get for that was the question. 

His ears perked up, but the conversation of the people behind him had moved on. One of their friends had signed up for business classes at Wayne County Community College. He snorted. He guessed business classes would be helpful in the ‘profession.’

As he sat down at a table to eat the warm meal handed him, he looked at the art on the wall. Most of it was poster work, inviting folks to this or that prayer meeting. One caught his eye. It was a picture of his face on an FBI flyer.

He crouched over his food and shoveled it in. It took him less than two minutes, by his reckoning, to wolf it down. When he returned his tray, he averted his eyes. He couldn’t fly out of there fast enough. To his horror, he noticed that there were flyers posted outside as well. Shit, shit, shit. Why didn’t he notice that before he walked inside?

He ducked into an alley and started walking. Discovering that he was close to the alley near the fountain, he hastened his speed, hoping that his place by the dumpster was free.

Before he got there, a car pulled up alongside him. He watched out of the corner of his eye as the passenger side window rolled down. Dressed in a button down shirt opened at the collar, the driver, a grey haired man who was leaning across the passenger seat,  said, “Hey, baby. Are you working tonight?”

Jon looked at him, and pointed to himself.

“Got twenty dollars for a quick hand job,” said the man.

Of course the universe would gift him. He had practically asked for it. “Sh-sh-sure,” said Jon.

The man leaned across the passenger seat and unlocked the door.

Was he going to do this? Twenty dollars could pay for a coat and another meal tomorrow. He jerked open the door and climbed in.

The man drove another block until he found a parking place protected from streetlights. He set his keys on the dash, pushed his seat back so he could stretch out, and slid open his zipper. “Pull it out,” he said to Jon.

Jon was sure his eyes betrayed his horror, but the man had leaned back and wasn’t watching him. Jon slipped his fingers into the pocket of the man’s whitey tighties and curled them around his floppy organ. He felt a flash of fear. The man was old. What if he broke it?

“Well, what are you waiting for?” said the man. “I’m paying you to get the damn thing going.”

Jon pulled the penis out and wrapped his fingers around it. Then he started pumping it as if it was his own. Nothing happened.

“Come on, kid. Get going. You gotta squeeze the old thing to wake it up.”

Oh god. Jon squeezed. It jerked to life. As the organ stiffened, Jon was shocked at how the slack skin filled out as he ran his hand up and down the shaft. When the skin was taught against firm muscle beneath it, it felt like silk slipping through his fingers.

He almost stopped at the shock of it. When he stroked himself, he never paid attention to the sensations in his hand. He was too intent on the rising heat of the volcano within.

The old guy started grunting, “Come on, come on, come on.” He bucked his hips, and his spunk drooled over Jon’s hand. Jon averted his face. If he couldn’t see it, he could pretend it was something other than another man’s jizz.

The man fell back into his seat, slack and silent.

Jon stared at his sticky hand. He tried wiping it off on the floor mat at his feet, but that didn’t get rid of it.

The man snorted awake, gave Jon a stiff, new twenty and a pat on his cheek. Then he stuffed his gear back into his pants, zipped himself in, and told Jon, “Get the hell out.”

Jon stumbled over the curb and backed away from the vehicle, clutching the twenty in his clean hand. His soiled hand, like a foreign appendage he didn’t recognize, was balled up, held at an odd angle away from his body so it wouldn’t accidentally touch him anywhere.

The man gunned his car as he speeded away, never once looking back at him.

Jon shoved the twenty-dollar bill into the front pocket of his jeans, jamming it into the bottom as best he could. All he could think about was washing his hand. However, he wasn’t dying, he wasn’t getting sick. He wasn’t sorry. He had money. He scurried to the drinking fountain to wash his hand.

Holding the spigot in his clean hand, he let cool water rush over his tainted hand. He stopped after humming all of “Happy Birthday” twice and scrubbed his hands together. Then he wiped them on his pants, and for good measure, held open the spigot while he rinsed off the memory of pleasuring a man other than himself for the first time in his life.

He didn’t see the policemen until it was almost too late. He looked up briefly and saw the officer in the passenger seat step out of the marked vehicle. The officer looked at him squarely in the eye. Jon backed up two steps, staring back, and then turned and ran.

“Hey, stop,” yelled the officer. Jon heard a car door slam behind him and knew the officer’s partner had joined in the chase. Jon didn’t stop running for blocks.

When he stopped to catch his breath, he did not see or hear his pursuers. He couldn’t go back to his alley. Lost and tired, he wandered. He wandered until he was standing on the corner where it all started, across from Marchesi’s Bar and Grill. The building was dark. The business sign was off. Yellow police tape criss-crossed the door and the windows. He wandered to the alley behind the building. Tape cordoned off both ends. He slipped under it.

Huddled in the corner between the staircase and the back wall, and shivered to sleep.


And Found

(Author’s Note: You have not missed a chapter. Due to global warming and fires in Northern California, I did not post last week.)

Anger tastes metallic, thought Jack. He understood why he was sent home, but at home didn’t ease the terror he felt for his son or the anger with the FBI and its machinations. At home, he wasn’t Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler. He was Dad, a scared shitless dad, a dad who had seen the kinds of bad things that happened to runaway teens too many times.

His phone buzzed against his thigh. His little toe kicked the solid foot of the couch when he jumped at the sensation.   

Struggling to pull his phone from his pocket while hopping on one foot, Jack prayed it was his son, Jonathan.

Instead, it was Chief Thompson. She had texted, “Jack, meet us at Emilia Rodriguez’s apartment, ASAP.”

He gathered strength to type back the one question he couldn’t voice, the one that was foremost in his mind. “Did you find Jon?”

Her response was immediate, “No. This is about that dream you had.” An address followed.

“Weird,” he said when he saw it. He knew the address. Why? When had he been there and for what reason?

He rested the phone against his forehead, trying to gather thoughts, letting his heart calm. Following a case would take his mind off the panic he felt about Jon.

He texted, “OK.”

Emilia Rodriguez. He had interviewed her about Evan Fischer’s case. She had picked up a pain prescription for him and claimed she was only an errand runner. Neither he nor Maureen felt that running errands was her entire story, but they had no evidence otherwise. He could see her face so clearly in his mind right now. He’d met her once and had not thought of her since, so why were her features so front and foremost in his mind?

He quickly changed into presentable clothes and raced out his door.

He parked in front of Emilia Rodriguez’s building and waited for the Chief. She was riding with Marcus Balmario, with whom he had an uneasy rivalry. During their last case, he and Balmario had eased their relationship with shared grief, but it was a new chapter for them, and Jack planned to be cautious. He couldn’t handle jibes right now.

He leaned against his hood with his arms crossed and studied the building. It seemed creepily familiar, like he’d been here recently, but then it was a typical building for this area. He’d been to at least a dozen others just like it.

Marcus Balmario pulled into a space across the street.

“Jack,” said Maureen as she and Balmario crossed it.

“Maureen, Marcus, thanks for the call,” said Jack.

“How’s the little wifey?” said Balmario.

“Not in the mood,” said Jack, and little angrier than he intended. He added, “He is fine.”

“Okay, there is no time for this, boys. Get your professional investigative hats on, now.”

Nobody messed with Maureen.

Emilia Rodriquez lived on the second floor at the end of a very short hallway at the back of the building. The hallway was dark and smelled strongly of cigarette smoke and mustiness, probably from mold. Halfway down the hallway, Jack noticed a trail of what he suspected was blood. The stain was heavier in front of her door.

It hung off its hinges. Someone had kicked it open.

Like dancers that had rehearsed the move, all three pulled their guns and approached in silence. They entered a short hallway adorned with photos. Jack flipped a light switch next to the door, but nothing happened. To the right was a living room, which he cleared. Across from it was a bathroom, which Maureen cleared. At the end of the dark hallway was a closed door. He knew it was the only bedroom. Balmario opened the door and cleared the space behind it.  

The only room left was the kitchen past the bathroom. When Jack stepped into it to clear the space, a wave of dizziness punched him back into the hallway.

“Jack?” said Maureen.

“I’m okay,” he said and stepped back into it. The dirty dishes were still in the sink, but someone had cleaned up the floor and the bloody towels. He flipped the switch next to the door, and the kitchen lit up, a hazy, yellow, postage stamp of space that was exactly how he remembered it.

“This is it,” he said. “This is my dream. I stood right here.”

“Are you sure?” said Maureen.


Maureen said, “I thought there was more to her than what she told us.”

Jack pulled a chair from the table and leaned his hands upon the back of it. The grit of peeling paint dug into his palms right where he imagined it would. “She was on the floor, right there.” He pointed to the spot in front of the chair.

Maureen squatted. “Yeah, the bleach smell is really strong right here. And, ugh. Is that hair?” She pulled tweezers and a small plastic zip lock bag from her kit. She carefully lifted strands of black hair from the connecting bar between the chair’s front legs.

“Each time a contraction hit her, she would raise her head. I could feel her bump against the chair.”

“Well, it looks like there are some roots here. Maybe we can match the mother to the abandoned baby we found yesterday morning.”   

Marcus was watching Jack. Jack could feel the skepticism seeping off him. He braced for the inevitable sarcasm Balmario was sure to throw at him. Balmario had been the one person that had razzed him the longest about his seemingly psychic insight.

Marcus didn’t say anything; he just watched.

Jack’s mind floated back to the dream. “I knew the girl.” He fisted his chest over his heart. “She was someone I thought was stunning, even as pregnant as she seemed to be. It was a horrible juxtaposition seeing her on the floor suffering compared to….” She stepped out of a shiny Lincoln and walked toward him, an undulating vision of blatant beauty. It stopped his breath.

“Compared to what?” mumbled Balmario.

“What?” said Jack. He shook his head and was back in the present.

“Go on,” said Maureen.

“I was delivering money to pay a midwife, so I guess Emilia was a midwife as well as a donkey. Right? Damn.” He bowed his head.

“What?” said Maureen.

“When I woke up the morning after the dream, I was so scared that Jon was involved in all of this. I ignored the hints that my mind was giving me, that somehow I knew the midwife. The kid who was actually here did not know her…so, I did not…know her, I mean…as him. I dismissed it.”

Marcus snorted.

Maureen glared at him.

Marcus said, “I’m going to call CSI and get them out here.”

Maureen said, “Good idea.”

Jack’s arms and legs buzzed, his jaw hurt. What had he neglected here? If Emilia Rodriguez was injured, or worse, because he had not considered this vision, he didn’t know if he could forgive himself. They had to find her. He backed out of the kitchen into the darkened hallway to catch his breath. The bedroom at the end of the hall drew him forward. He could almost feel the baby in the crook of his left arm. The girl was alive when he left. She was still moaning on the kitchen floor. There was a commotion at the door. The midwife was screaming at him to get out.  

He escaped out the bedroom window, taking the infant with him. Why had she handed him a dead baby? He went to the bedroom window and looked down at the alley below. “Maureen,” he said, “I’m going to check out the alley.”

She hollered, “Okay.”

Jack put on gloves before he wrenched open the window. It was as sticky as he remembered. He clambered onto the rickety, metal landing to climb down the fire escape. At the base of it, he tried to figure out which direction he had run. He was so afraid then, afraid of what he had seen, afraid of the people pounding on the door, terrified of the death cradled against his side. Standing here now, disoriented and churning the same way he had in the dream, he could not remember which direction he took.

He slowly turned three hundred sixty degrees, scanning the area. Four of his long strides took him to the mouth of the alley. There were skid marks snaking across it. He pulled a partial roll of crime tape from the right pocket of his coat and stretched it across the alley to block auto and foot traffic. Then he jogged down the alley toward the other entrance. He saw nothing that could be used as evidence, but he taped off this end of the alley, anyway.

Maureen leaned out the window. “Jack.”

A chill went through him. “I’ll be right up,” he said.

As he climbed through the window, he heard Maureen say into her phone, “Just cover the body until we get there.”

“No, no, no,” he moaned.

She lowered her phone. “A woman, Jack. A woman washed up on the river.”

“Okay, okay,” he said. “Okay.” He quickly looked around the small flat, at first relieved it wasn’t news about Jon, then horrified when instinctively he realized that it was probably Emilia Rodriguez.

CSI arrived and began unpacking in the hallway. Maureen and Balmario were right outside the front door. Jack expected to join them on the body call. Instead, Maureen called to him, “Jack, you stay here and direct CSI. Maybe something else will occur to you that we can use.”

“I’m worried it’s Emilia,” he said.

“Just stay here and help CSI.”

“Maureen.” He took two steps to follow.

She shook her head.

He froze.

“Sir?” said one of the CSI techs. “Sir?”

Jack turned slowly toward her while Maureen left with Marcus Balmario.

Maureen and Marcus stood over Emilia Rodriguez. Her body showed signs of being in the water for at least twelve to sixteen hours, maybe more. There was a neat hole through her forehead.

Maureen said, “They are cleaning house.”

“Who was Jack talking about back there in the apartment?”

“Well, I have my suspicions, but of course, if Jack didn’t get names, we can’t know. Evan told us that he’d asked one of his father’s employees to bring money to his girlfriend’s midwife. Seems like a coincidence since Emilia and Evan knew each other.”

“Uh, huh.”

“Another coincidence, the baby was a stillbirth.”

“In Jack’s vision,” said Balmario.

“Have you ever actually worked a case with Jackson Tyler?” said Maureen.

“Not as a primary,” said Marcus with a great deal of relief.

“Well, I have. When he gets this way, you might as well take it as if you are listening to someone who witnessed the event. Because he has.”

“It’s so damn weird,” said Marcus.

“Yes. Yes, it is,” said Maureen.

“If the Morellis are cleaning house, we need to find this other player. What was his name?”

Maureen scrunched her eyes and said, “Sawyer. Evan Fischer said he sent one of his father’s employees to pay the midwife. His name was Sawyer.”

“So you think Jack was there as Sawyer?”

“Maybe,” she said.

The medical examiner’s crew was bagging the body.

Maureen said, “We need to follow her back to the morgue.”

When they were in the car following the ME’s van, Marcus said, “I have a question.”

“Yes?” she said.

“Everyone knows about Tyler’s weird mojo, but I have never seen it in action. He didn’t seem to have a lot of helpful information. If he saw this woman before she was taken, why didn’t he say something? Maybe we could have prevented her death.”

“He did say there was a commotion at the door, but he didn’t make the connection. Why would he call if he didn’t know where to send help, or who to send it to?”

“But you just said it was as if he was there.”

“But not as Jack. If our suspicions are correct, and let me remind you, we are talking about suspicion, not fact, if they are correct, he was this kid named Sawyer, who was delivering the money and got caught up in something he couldn’t handle.”

They were silent for a moment.

Then Maureen said, “I did ask him. I did ask him if he had seen the midwife’s face, because it was after we had found the abandoned infant.”

“What did he say?”

“He couldn’t really. I got the impression he felt like he knew who she was, but the connection wasn’t there.”

“Shit,” said Marcus.

“It doesn’t work that way. It’s not his fault.”

“No, I wasn’t thinking that. Tyler is going to shit bricks when he finds out she is dead. I know I would. Whether I want to admit it or not, he’s one hell of a good cop, and compassionate. He isn’t going to take this well.”

“If we can get DNA off this hair, we can at least connect the mother to the baby. If we can connect the mother to the baby, and Jack can confirm in his vision he was Sawyer, that will help a lot,” said Maureen.

“Then we can assume that the baby we found is Morelli’s?”

“Perhaps not in court, but for our sakes, I would stake my life on it.”

“How can we facilitate Jack’s memory?”

“Good question.”

Marcus snorted again.

“We need to find Sawyer,” said Maureen. “I think he’s our best bet for fitting the pieces together.”